Around the Block

Spine Line Derailment

July 31

Iowa's been suffering through some "Dog Days" of summer, with highs in the upper 90's and truly outstanding humidity.  To ward off cabin fever, I decided to at least go "around the block" (Osceola, Chariton, Melcher, Beech) on Tuesday morning.  It was 83 degrees when I got out of town just before 8:00.  I'd called Amtrak to see how No. 6 was doing and learned that they were an hour and fifteen down, much better than Sunday and Monday, when the train reached Osceola 12 hrs. and 8 1/2 hrs. late, respectively.

Amtrak's installed a new automated trace on 1-800-USA-RAIL, and I find it very handy compared to waiting for a person to come on the line to ask if I wish to make a reservation.  Unfortunately, they've also revamped their web site so that the home page now has that overcrowded "portal" appearance.  If you want to check train status, look closely, the link's just below the form fields on the right side of the page.  I hope you're hungry, because using the trace involves eating quite a few cookies.  If you find the trace seems to be repeating the train identification question, just keep clicking, you'll get there.  Look for the arrival status on the far right of the train I.D. and schedule display.

I reached the depot around 8:30.  The Main St. crossing has recently been reconstructed by the BNSF and this morning the the Iowa DOT people were preparing to add asphalt ramps to ease the transition from the highway paving to the rail level.  The mud hole on Main 2 just east of the road crossing has been repaired and, according to the Amtrak agent, J.R. Black, they've added a drain from the area running into the storm sewer.  Shortly after my arrival a flatcar and a magnet crane came down the north spur and went west out of town.

There appeared to be a fairly sizable group waiting on the train today and many of them were not in the waiting room, but hanging out on whatever seating they could find in the shade on the north side of the depot.  One thing that distinguishes Amtrak from its competition in central Iowa is that they do not provide an air-conditioned waiting room.  They do provide generous amounts of waiting, though.

At 10:20, Foreman Jack Ellis gave the approaching passenger train permission to pass his Form B at the grade crossing (MP 359.7 to 360.8) and then made sure that the pavers were in the clear.  The Zephyr showed shortly with AMTK 150, 132 and 127.  The remainder of the consist:

Baggage 1188
Transition Sleeper 39031
Coaches 34054, 34045, 31036 (coach-baggage) and 31524
Sightseer Lounge 33022
Diner 38004
Sleepers 32009 (George M. Pullman), 32110 (Tennessee) and 32030
Material 1460
Baggage 1269
Six boxcars and no Roadrailers
After the coach passengers were aboard, the train pulled down for a second spot at 10:28.  One family of four got into a discussion about their "expectations" on the platform with conductor "Doc" Livingston that ended with them being told that if they wanted to ride today they'd better just get aboard.  After the train pulled out the Osceola times were reported to the dispatcher as ":23 and :30".

After the train was on its way I overheard discussion from on board, "Doc, you got any room?  I've got a family of four and no room at all."  After some searching it sounded like at least the adults were seated somewhere in first class.  Unfortunately Amtrak's interpretation of the word "reservation" isn't always the same as the customer's.  I found that my trains were well oversold when I traveled on the Zephyr last summer.

10:45 and 90 degrees.  I started east along Hwy. 34.  From conversations between the dispatcher and maintenance of way people, it sounded like there would be one westbound train and that would be the last traffic until late in the afternoon today.  The westbound was already on its way over from Halpin.  I heard them report themselves clear of MP 338 as I reached Lucas, so I turned around and went to the bridge near Stephens Forest for a picture.

I caught them at 11:00.  BNSF 4318, SF 905, and IC 6140 and 6007.  I'm not certain about the last two units.  Just as the train came under the bridge there was traffic above, so I was stuck on the east side until a couple of pickups got by.  Incredible luck, to get two vehicles in this remote spot at just the right time.  I uttered a discouraging word or two into my microcassette.  The consist was a solid block of empty BNSF covered hoppers.

In Chariton I stopped to get a shot of a new sign that's been placed in a little triangle of land west of Hwy. 14 and just south of the underpass with the BNSF.  It's not exactly Rochelle, Illinois, yet, but it's a start.

At 11:45 I heard a northbound UP train get a warrant from Allerton to Beech, with a meet at Beech.  Their "at" location was still south of Allerton (MP 373), so I stopped for a Subway sandwich to go and headed for Beech.  I kept track of the train's progress by the reports of the detectors at Chariton and at Melcher.  At 12:40 I heard the Trenton Sub. dispatcher talking to a southbound at Des Moines that I assumed would be the other train involved in the meet.  They were changing their "Warrant for Bulletins" from a Wisconsin Central to a Norfolk Southern unit.

1:05 and 95 degrees.  I had time to finish my sandwich before the northbound appeared and slowed before reaching the siding.  This turned out to be a stack train pulled by UP 7555 and 4179.  The conductor hopped out and threw the siding switch before the train pulled ahead and slid quietly into the siding.  They stopped with the rear of the train hanging out on the main at 1:16, probably with the head end just short of the only grade crossing in Beech.  Just a couple of minutes later, the crew on the ill-fated Norfolk Southern unit called in to say they were on the ground at Hartford, "...milepost sixty and a quarter..".

7555 was instructed to cut their train and tie it down.  I considered for a microsecond sticking around to haul the conductor back and forth... Nah, let's go to the wreck!  Hartford's not far from Beech and I figured from the milepost that they might be right beside Hwy. 5.  It took only about 15 minutes to get up there via the "Palmyra Road".  On the way I heard that the locomotives were not derailed and that there were no hazardous cars in the derailed portion of the train.

I turned east on Hwy. 5 and soon saw the rear of the train, still on the highway overpass.  Two fire trucks were parked just east of the overpass on either side of a construction road that led to grading just east of the right of way.  Since that entrance looked well-controlled, I passed it up and headed for Hartford's main drag.  That street turned out to have been repaved recently and was still marked with "Road Closed" signs.  It was evident that people had been driving around them, so I did, too.

A couple of blocks into town, I met a deputy coming onto the new paving from the east.  I figured I'd either be assumed to belong there or be in trouble, so I decided to go for it and rolled down the window to ask, "Say, can you point me in the direction of this derailment?"  The officer said he was looking for it too, and he followed me south and back west into the construction area next to the rails.  There was easy access to the derailment from the construction area, all you had to do was dodge the off-road dump trucks that were running between cut and fill areas.

The derailed train (MDMKC-31) was in three parts.  The locos and a set of about 20 cars that did not derail were stopped to the south, with the head end pretty close to MP 61.  The lead unit was NS 9119 and the second, WC 6596.  A member of the Hartford fire department was on the front of the NS unit talking on a cellphone (and perhaps labeling specimens?)

The last car of this lead twenty-or-so was derailed and had been cutting ties and stripping the west rail away for approximately 1/4 mile as the front of the train came to a stop.  The next 30 cars were piled up on and near the right of way.  Most of these appeared to be loaded covered hoppers.  The Hartford Fire Department had a number of its vehicles parked on the construction area near the end of the piled-up hoppers and the start of the third, not derailed, portion of the train.

While at the scene of the derailment, I overheard a train crew member state that they had come around the curve to find a pretty bad sun kink.  As I understand them, sun kinks are usually lateral displacements of the rails caused by expansion of the steel rails under high temperatures.  It was near 100 degrees today, this portion of the line is continuous welded rail, and the derailment occurred near a point where a broad curve exits a bridge and the line straightens into tangent track.  A sun kink sounded fairly plausible to me, but apparently that's not correct.

News releases by Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis blame the incident on the boring of a 3-inch gas pipeline under the right of way and a buildup of mud and water that caused a hump in the tracks.  Davis was quoted in several local media describing the rise in the tracks as, "like a ski jump".  According to these same reports, more than $1 million in damage was done and the UP will probably file a claim with the pipeline contractor's insurer.

Before I left the area, I stopped for this picture, which shows a Rock Island caboose on static display just west of the derailment location.  You can see the rear portion of the MKSDM in the background of the shot.

That's It!