We left Indianola around 11:00, intending to start our trip by following the BNSF line to Alliance, NE. It was 74 degrees and threatening to rain. We went south from Indianola to Osceola and started west along Hwy. 34. From the scanner, we heard a train leaving Creston, so we stopped in Murray to have our picnic lunch and wait for it. The DENGAL finally appeared in Murray at12:45, with BN 7006, 7099, 2335 and EMD 9002 on the point.
We quickly checked out the Creston yard, where we found a couple of coal loads stopped. BNSF 9728, BN 5098 and 9671 were in front of JAIX cars, and BN 9603 and 9595 had BN hoppers. Also in the yard today: SF 2246, BNSF 2449, and caboose 12526.
By the time we neared Glenwood we'd driven through some very heavy rain. We met a load near Glenwood and an empty was just heading west out of Pacific Junction as we drove through town. A ballast train was parked on the line going south with BNSF 9799 and BN 7075. The sky cleared rapidly as we left P. Jct. and drove across the Missouri River into Nebraska. We managed to get ahead of the empty and see the head end in Plattsmouth. On the point were BNSF 8879 and 9812, pulling OVEX cars. The BNSF line here in Plattsmouth parallels the river, heading northwest out of town. Plattsmouth has a captive CB&Q caboose, just west of the grade crossing where we caught up with 8879.
We drove west to Ashland and stopped there around 4:00 to see two trains. The first was a westbound ballast train, all BN cars, with BN 2807, 2304, 2809 and 8041. This train, which had caboose BN 12564, pulled west and then backed into a siding while an eastbound manifest waited on it. The manifest had BNSF 3039 and 2622 in charge.
At 4:20 we met a coal load west of Ashland, with BNSF 9966 and 9865, and AEPX cars. One of the units was on the head end and the other on the rear of the train.
We took a quick cruise through Lincoln, not stopping for any pictures. West of Seward at 5:20 we encountered a coal load. In just a few minutes, near Tamora, we spotted yet another.
We stopped in York for supper and then went to the York depot to watch four coal empties (westbound, of course) pass:
We'd made a motel reservation in Grand Island (Days Inn) and found that although the tracks were well to the north, we could hear and see the traffic on BN line from our motel room. After moving into our room, we went exploring in Grand Island. Both UP and BNSF mainlines pass through the city, with the BNSF on a fairly recently constructed flyover above the west end of the UP yard. In downtown Grand Island, we intercepted an eastbound UP stack train just after 9:00. It was getting pretty dark, but I took an image anyway. The train had UP 7549, 7506 and 3458 on the point.
We cruised the UP yard area, seeing UP 2018, 2319, 2005, B4305, 3410, 7101, 6628 and 2012, and caboose 25506. The UP yard is adjacent to some Nebraska Central facilities, and some of their equipment was nearby. We decided to come back in the morning for more pictures. Before returning to the motel, we saw another eastbound along Hwy. 30 at 9:30, empty autoracks behind UP 9467 and 9462. We paced them back toward town at over 60 mph.
Our plan for Monday was to follow the BN coal line to the northwest along Hwy. 2, at least as far as Alliance. Once there, we planned to evaluate the time and the weather and decide how to proceed. I went to the motel desk and made a reservation for Monday night in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
We saw several trains come through as we were looking around the town. At 7:20, UP 8519 and CNW 8659 came through town eastbound with containers. They met a coal empty of MAXX cars. I was hoping to get a shot of a train on the BN flyover, and caught one just as we were leaving the UP yard at 7:28. This train had autoracks and containers and was powered by SF 141, BNSF 5193 and 6(6?)28. Jan has 141 in her notes, but in the picture it looks like it might be 147. Five minutes later an eastbound UP stacker came through with CNW 8617 and UP 9216.
Grand Island is one of those places were one could just sit and watch the RR traffic all day. That is, if that's your pleasure! We relish the chase and generally keep moving.
Right out of Grand Island we ran into a detour. Hwy. 2 was closed west of Cairo. We stopped and asked a mowing crew about the length of the closing and they said we could get back on at Ravenna, so we took some gravel roads around to the south and got back on the highway around 9:00. An eastbound stacker was stopped near Ravenna.
The highway closely parallels the rails between Grand Island and Alliance. Traffic in coal trains is very heavy, and we intercepted approximately 20 trains in five hours between Ravenna and Alliance. The route is a mix of one and two main-track with CTC. The dispatcher frequently informs trains of the number of opposing trains that they will meet while in two-main territory, so it's fairly easy for a railfan to know what to expect. Here's a list of those we saw, all eastbound coal loads unless otherwise noted:
We spent about an hour looking around Alliance. The BNSF has a large facility here for engine service and repair as well as a pair of yards. One yard runs east/west just north of the locomotive facilities, and the other extends out to the southwest along the line down to Northport/Bridgeport. The yards are joined on the west and northeast ends, respectively, by a wye connecting to the mainline going to the northwest out of town. It appeared that a room on the front side of the Days Inn here would afford a pretty good view of activity on the wye.
Two trains were in the process of using the wye when we were there. Both were leaving the southwest yard. The first, with JAIX empties, went around the west side and headed north around 2:45. On the point were BN 9474, BNSF 9804, 9931 and BN 5104, engineer "Cindy" in charge. A pair of switchers, BNSF 3515 and 3520, were working next to the main with caboose BN 12121.
The second train, a load with three Oakways (EMD) and a BN unit for power, waited for the first to clear and then went around the wye to the east. Lots of interesting equipment appeared near the loco service buildings, including a plow with an F-? B unit and some cabooses, 12127 and 10143. We drove back to the east end of the yard and checked out the locos there, including 9928, 9924, 7246, 5102, 9495, 5096, 5010, 9842, 9759, 9617, 5086, 9231, 9516, 9555, and 9871.
We decided that we would not continue up toward Crawford and the coal mines, but instead head south to Bridgeport. On the way down the line just north of Northport, at 3:30, we met a grain train with BNSF 4861, SF 5183 and SF 638. As it had a number of times on our trip so far, the sky was darkening and rain threatened.
We stopped in Northport to take a look at a Pandrol-Jackson rail grinding outfit, RMS-6, parked just west of town. We continued south to Bridgeport, stopping at the BN depot and to check out a captive caboose, BN 10346, just across the highway from the depot. A coal empty, RTPX cars, was stopped in the siding at Bridgeport behind BNSF 9761, 9717 and BN 9594. We continued down Hwy. 385 toward the UP mains, stopping only for a quick look at the water tank in Gurley.
We joined up with the UP line and started west toward Cheyenne around 4:40. In Sidney we spotted another Canac switcher, 1349, similar to one we'd seen in Clinton a few weeks ago. A coal load, with WEPX gons, was parked in Sidney with UP 6649 and 8090. We followed Hwy. 30 from here into Cheyenne and it was, "fish-in-a-barrel", train-chasing, much like that along Hwy. 2 west of Grand Island, but with greater variety in train consists.
By 5:00, we'd seen two trains, both westbound - a manifest, mostly "junk" with UP 8292, SP 141 and UP 8140, and an intermodal that we couldn't catch because we were stopped by road work. Incidentally, roads that would have 55 mph limits in Iowa are 60 or 65 out here.
At 5:12, we caught and passed a slowly moving manifest just east of Dix with UP 6195 and 9219. Five minutes later we found a stopped eastbound, west of Dix, with six old passenger cars just behind the power. This train waited for some time as westbounds passed. The eastbound had UP 6825, 6740, 8019, 6285 and 6172 for power. The passenger cars were marked ITAX with various numbers. We could make out 8036, 5220 and 4042. There was also a round, yellow logo of some kind on several of the cars. Some appeared to have at one time been painted with Amtrak striping. The one dome car had no glass in it the dome windows. On another track sat the rear of a distributed power train with SP 361 attached. We later saw the head end power of this train, UP 8207 and 8213.
We waited while some westbounds passed. At 5:35, we saw a block of empty autoracks come through, pulled by UP 9723 and 5683. Ten minutes later, that train was followed by a slowly moving manifest behind UP 6195 and 9219.
To the west, we saw a parked eastbound manifest with UP 6277, CNW 8618 and UP 7311. The last of these locos appeared to have had an engine compartment fire. We saw a number of parked and moving trains on the rest of the run into Cheyenne:
West of the depot we spotted an interesting consist, with four SP units on the way to be scrapped or rebuilt. 7761, 7772, 7768 and 7355 were leading a train, pulled by SP 8387, 8390 and UP 9313.
We had an indefinite and convoluted plan of travel for the day. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we had reservations in Estes Park, Colorado, but we planned to meander southwest today and come into Estes Park from the west, taking Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way in. I'd talked to a friend and Rio Grande modeler, Dennis Williams, before we left and with his help had picked out some places to visit. We planned to try to catch some of the coal traffic down from the Craig area and to possibly go as far south as Bond, even follow the line all the way to Winter Park, before going back north and east into the park. Not all of this worked out - here's the day's itinerary as it developed:
We left Cheyenne around 9:00 and took Hwy 30 west. Shortly, we caught up to a CTRN empty that we'd seen passing the motel earlier. The power was UP 8079, SP 234 and UP 7178. With stunning absence of mind, I'd managed to leave Cheyenne without buying gas. We had enough to get to Laramie with no problem, but I wanted to head southwest cross-country and try to find the UP lines in the somewhat less-inhabited area between the Interstate and Tie Siding. We got back onto the foggy Interstate, went west a short way and pulled off at what must be the country's oldest convenience store (est. 1877), in Buford, where we filled up (At $1.40/gallon for self-serve - Ouch!)
Our map showed just the road we needed out of Buford, but the UP had a padlocked gate across it, naturally. We got back on the Interstate and went west to the next exit, where we had better luck finding a road (well, a reasonable facsimile of a road, anyway). Just a few miles south of the Interstate, we came to the Ames Monument, which marks the highest point (8247 feet) on the original transcontinental route. A somewhat apologetic plaque explains who the Ames brothers were.
We drove on, generally heading south or southwest whenever we could. Pretty soon we found the UP tracks at a location with a siding called Dale. I got out to look around and line up a picture or two, but was pretty sure that I heard locos coming. Sure enough, just after 10:00, the same westbound CTRN train came through Dale.
The UP has a couple of routes through this area, so we continued into the back country, looking for the next set of rails. The "roads", however kept taking us east and southeast. About 10 miles beyond Dale we turned back and then found another "road" heading south. It eventually led right up to a high fill that I assume carried the other UP route through the area. The UP'd provided a passageway under the fill, in the form of a large corrugated steel culvert. I rolled the Jeep cautiously up the steep approach and through to the far side of the culvert. There we found a small landing with several exits. The only one that wasn't marked as private property was a pair of ruts parallel to the tracks along the side of the fill. At that point we decided that it was time to retreat.
We went back through Dale, finding some fellows there surveying for a fiberoptic line. Once back on the Interstate, we went to Laramie for a short break and a look at the now-unused UP depot.
Our next objective was to head west and south toward the ex-Rio Grande coal line coming down through Steamboat Springs. We took Hwy. 230 out of Laramie and drove through Woods Landing and into the Medicine Bow Forest. The highway crossed an old UP branch line several times as we came through Mountain Home and down into Cowdrey. Portions of the branch have been salvaged, leaving only the remains of mining apparatus and the grade in place.
We stopped in Walden at the Elk Horn Cafe for lunch and were informed by our waitress, "Toots", that there'd been quite a bit of snow lately and that we might find Trail Ridge Road closed and have to go clear down to I-70 to get back across the front range. Walden is home to a captive caboose (well, more-or-less, it appears to be trying to escape) UP 25408, placed near the old right of way.
We followed Hwy. 14 west out of Walden and then went over Rabbit Ears Pass (9,426 ft., 42 degrees, lots of snow) and up into Steamboat Springs. We made a stop there and watched a westbound coal empty go through as we sat in traffic waiting for a light to change.
Out of Steamboat Springs we headed south on 131 to Oak Creek and Phippsburg. the highway follows the old Rio Grande line closely through a canyon here, but we did not see any trains. I stopped in Phippsburg, a crew-change point on the line, and talked to a van driver, but she said there would not be any more traffic for hours. I took a picture of a Rio Grande caboose, 01524, while we were in town.
South of Phippsburg we found an empty with HLMX cars parked. On the head end were SP 377 and UP 7067, in the middle UP 6877 and 7094, and on the rear SP 158 and 200.
The weather was deteriorating rapidly as we drove south along the Rio Grande route. I'd originally planned to go to Bond and State Bridge and follow a secondary road that paralleled the railroad back over to Kremmling, but it was down near 40 degrees, dark and raining fairly hard. We decided to turn back east at Toponas and take Hwy. 134 back across the continental divide through Gore Pass (9,527 ft.). It was on this leg that I earned the Dumb Question O' the Day Award for, "What's that white stuff on the road?". Jan noted 37 degrees on the Jeep's thermometer.
Off of Gore Pass, we went down into Kremmling and began following the rails again through Parshall into Granby. Every corner brought into view a new setting that would have made a terrific picture if there'd only been a train on the rails! On the radio we started picking up discussion of a "slide fence" indication and the dispatching of someone to check on it. I figured that if there were any traffic, this would probably put a stop to it for a while. The weather improved as we headed out of Granby up toward Grand Lake and the entrance to Rocky Mountain Park.
Once in the park, the clouds parted and provided a breath-taking vista back toward the west. We were both thrilled to be back in the mountains. Our trip over Trail Ridge Road was uneventful. The summit (over 12,000 ft.) was completely snowed in and the temperature was 34 degrees, but the road had been plowed. We drove between eight foot-high walls of snow right into the clouds and fog before dropping back down 4,000 feet or so to our destination in Estes Park.
There's a long story associated with Jan's goal of climbing a mountain in the park again - if you care to read about that and see more pictures follow this link. The return trip resumes on Thursday morning.