A Spring Day on the BNSF

Thursday, May 3


Thursday's forecast was for a perfect late spring day in Iowa.  I called to see how Amtrak was doing and learned that it was expected to be about 45 minutes late.  I was out of Indianola for the drive down Hwy 69 (they've raised the speed limit from 50 back to 55 as it was in the "old days") just after 6:00 and missed one westbound a few minutes before reaching the tracks.  I'd also heard another westbound getting out of Albia around 6:25.  At 6:45 dispatcher KRS had taken over the Ottumwa desk and had the eastbound "DENGAL" going around a couple of other trains at Albia.

At 6:50 I heard "Okay on this side" messages exchanged and figured the westbound I'd missed had met someone west of town.  Shortly the detector east of Osceola reported another westbound.  This turned out to be an interesting consist, stack cars, piggybacks and numerous loaded auto racks.  The train came out of the sun at 6:55 with BNSF 8262 and 6804.  It's rare to see any intermodal through Osceola in the daytime.

Distributed Power noises continued on the scanner after the westbound passed and just after 7:00 a coal load came around the corner west of the depot.  On the head end was BNSF 9933 (note red flag).  Bringing up the rear of the set of BN/BNSF and COEH cars was BNSF 9742.  After the train was out of town, the detector reported them at 532 axles.

I waited in the depot parking lot for the Zephyr while various railroad maintenance people busied themselves nearby.  A high-rail boom truck was loaded with new ties and a track inspector got on Main 1 to head east out of town.

Just before 9:00, Engineer Denise called in to tell Depot Attendant Pat that No. 6 was crossing the Interstate.  Pat informed the engineer that she had two sleeper fares to board.  The passenger train appeared and rolled to its first stop almost one hour down from the timetable.  Consist today:
AMTK 58 and 138
Baggage 1251
Transition Sleeper 39042
Coaches 34062, 34027 and 31540
Sightseer Lounge 33007
Diner 38038
Sleepers 32038 and 32018
Private Car (apparently occupied) "Silver Iris", from Golden State Ltd.  (Silver Iris web site)
Four Boxes and four roadrailers.
After passing the detector, Amtrak reported "9:01 and 9:05" to the KC line dispatcher.

The overall picture of traffic this morning now appeared this way:  There was one eastbound out of Creston behind Amtrak, a coal load led by BNSF 8808.  Later in the morning, this train asked the dispatcher if they were going down the K-Line and were told "There's no K-Line, half of it is under water!".  I'd also learned from dispatcher KRS that three empties were lined up east of Albia waiting for Amtrak to climb the north hill, passing the 9933 that I'd seen come through Osceola about 2 hours ago.  I decided to to follow the Zephyr and headed for Albia.  In spite of a couple of Form B's to deal with, Denise gradually pulled away from me as I ran a steady 60 mph across Hwy. 34.

By the time I got to Albia, Amtrak was back on Main 2 and on the way to Ottumwa.  I went to the yard area in Albia to see if I could intercept the westbounds on Main 1.  The first one, which had read out at 484 axles on the detector at MP 298.5, arrived at the junction with the Des Moines branch at 10:20.  In the lead were BN 9585 and 9425.  The empty's consist was NCUX cars.

Five minutes later, the detector reported the next westbound, this time a DP train with 532 axles.  I'd heard the 9933 pass the detector on Main 2 and knew that I'd be able to get through to old Maxon, so I drove out there to find my usual parking place occupied by BNSF maintenance forces.  I drove a bit further east to another pullout and caught the next train at 10:30.  This empty had BNSF 5703 in the lead and 5701 shoving on the rear of its COEH tub gons.

The detector announced the third westbound at 10:40, 488 axles.  This train, with BN 9523 and BNSF 4158, was to stop and pick up a set of fuel oil cars from Des Moines.  They had a set of new (April 04 build date) PSTX tub gons.

By this time I figured that eastbound 8808 would be starting up the hill, so I went to the first grade crossing west of Old Maxon, a gravel road that crosses only Main 2, and waited.  They showed at 11:15, a distributed power load of UCEX hoppers with BNSF 8808 in the lead.  In this shot, looking up the hill, you can see the new PSTX tubs in the background on Main 1 as 9523 has stopped and cut off its train to pick up the fuel oil.  BN 9705 was on the rear of the coal load, totaling 528 axles on the detector east of Maxon.

I next went to the west end of the Albia yard on Main 1 to catch 9523, its train back together coming through with the fuel oil, on the way down the north hill at 11:30.

At this point it sounded like there wouldn't be much traffic for a while.  Dispatcher KRS was granting maintenance people track and time warrants on both mains, so I decided to get some lunch and find a shady parking spot.  On the way back to the tracks I saw some movement of covered hoppers out of the corner of my eye.  It was the Appanoose County coming into Albia, a "good catch"!  I hurried over to the east side of the rails to get a shot of their loco, APNC 973, just after they'd dropped their cut and were heading for the BNSF interchange.

I drove around trying to get an angle on the train and finally decided to wait for them to come back south and cross the road on the old Wabash overpass.  They brought the cars from the BNSF down to their small yard, dropped them and ran around to the south end of the cut they'd brought up from Centerville.  These cars were then shoved north across old Hwy. 34 and around the corner toward the interchange.  The engine then returned light, ran back to the south end of the yard and prepared to couple up with the cars brought from the interchange earlier.  At this point the engine crew tied down and got aboard the APNC weed sprayer to go to lunch.

Around 12:45 I heard KRS say that he had an eastbound coming, so I went down to the bottom of the hill at Halpin to check the signals.  I found John Horn in a highrail outfit waiting to take Main 2.  By 1:00 things were starting to clear up at the top.  I'd become impatient, however, and had moved to a spot part way up the hill where both mains were visible, though on grades separated by the road.  Horn came by at 1:15 and a coal load followed at 2:00.  The load had two new-looking units running elephant style, BNSF 5119 and 5118.  The consist was FSTX and ESCX tub gons.

On the radio, KRS now had the Galesburg to Lincoln manifest out of Ottumwa, plus another coal load approaching the bottom of the hill.  I moved to Halpin for these two.  The GALLIN, a "45 mph train", registered 494 axles on the detector at MP 298.5 and arrived at the bottom of Albia Hill at 2:20.  They had three units in the lead, BNSF 9204, 8054 and FURX 7245.

Maintenance workers were on the radio to the Ottumwa dispatcher trying to get on the track, and when one of them mentioned "the next guy", KRS replied that, "I am the 'next guy' today."  This prompted a side remark from some other radio, "Kevin never leaves the building..."

The last train (Number 11) of my day got to Halpin at 2:43, a CEFX load behind BN 9406 and 9538.  According to the discussions heard on the scanner, there was now nothing out of Creston and a couple of empties near Burlington.  I decided to head back to Indianola.  On run north up Hwy. 65 I heard the GALLIN on the Osceola detector at 3:35.

That's It!