Fort Worth and the BNSF N.O.C.

August 5 and 6

BNSF dispatcher Wes Carr (W.S.C.) some time ago issued an invitation to me to come to Fort Worth, and I'd planned to make it down there this summer.  The opportunity finally came along and coincided with some vacation time for Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig.  Rich, his girlfriend Amy and I headed out of Indianola around 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, planning to spend most of the night on I-35.  The drive takes around twelve hours and my motel receipt shows us checking in (after waking the Hampton Inn clerk) at 4:37 a.m.

Wes, currently on the "KC" desk, second shift Tuesday through Saturday, had cleared his day and was ready to take us train-watching on Monday morning.  Rich and Amy wanted to sleep in, but I met up with Wes around 9:00 and we headed for some railfan sightseeing in the city.  Our first stop was the Fort Worth and Western yard, not too far south of our motel's location near Meacham and I-35W.

Wes next took me to an overpass (Northside Drive, I believe) where we saw a southbound bare table train and caught a set of empty gondolas behind UP 417, 1917, 1983 and 1929 going the opposite direction.  Taken about 9:30 in the morning, the previous picture shows the buildings of downtown Fort Worth in the background - we were under a "condition red air quality alert" during our stay.  The gondola train, on former FW&D rails, took a crossover track onto what was once RI/OKT before crossing Trinity River on one of three parallel bridges just north of the overpass.

We spotted a southbound coal CWEX coal load, and managed to intercept it stopped at Peach St., northeast of the downtown area.  On the point were UP 6494 and 8052.  Our next stop was on I-30 just south of the post office for a freight with three SP units, SSW 7788, SP 7880 and SP 7801.  Wes hauled the Durango over to the side and I shot this one out the window.

Our next stop was at the east end of UP's Centennial Yard, near the diesel shop.  Wes and I took pictures of a number of the units that we saw parked outside the shop:  UP 1106, 2523 and 1922, UPY 855, SP 323, 8192 and 172, UP 728, 183 and 145, SP 7640, UP 9321, 1936, 4933 and 2915, with FWWR 5007.  I noticed that the UP's set up the entrance to the employee parking so as to discourage you from bringing in your motor home.

Wes had learned that a BNSF crew would be taking the Ringling Bros. circus train out of town today and the train was supposed to leave at 7:30 a.m.  We found it still waiting after 10:30, and learned from the radio that they were having some problems.  The lead unit's radio was not working and the trailing engine was dead.  The circus Trainmaster called the dispatcher and the head end to say that he wanted to "water the animals" here in Ft. Worth if they were going to have to wait any longer.  They decided to pull the train to the west end of the yard to do some maintenance on the circus animals as well as the iron horses.

We found the head end of the circus train at 10:50.  While the train was being serviced, the engineer walked back and asked us to take his picture standing by one of the cars, and then he went on back to get his own pictures of the animals.

Wes then took me over to one of the stops on the commuter operation called Trinity Railway Express.  TRE refers to their station where passengers may transfer between auto, bus and rail as, "intermodal".  At 11:20 we caught the arrival of a TRE consist of RDC cars as it passed through a tunnel constructed under an old building just north of the station.  I got a few more shots of the RDC's while they were making their station stop, and also took a picture of AMTK 90208, a loco converted to a baggage car, that was parked near the station.

By 11:30 or so, Rich and Amy had resurfaced and called Wes' cell phone.  We picked them up at the motel and went out for (authentic) Mexican for lunch.  Wes then took us on an extended railroad sightseeing tour north of town and then, at my request, to Tower 55.  Now nestled under the I-30/I-35W junction fly-overs and unoccupied, Tower 55 guarded a full mixmaster of double-track lines crossing at grade.  The tower  is one of the better-known train-watching spots in the nation, and remains one of its railroads' busiest locations.  We caught a couple of moves through the junction:

3:31 - northbound to westbound, HLCX 9029, HLCX 6500 and UP 3059
3:36 - southbound EGSX coal load, DP, BNSF 9930 and 9608 front and 8889 rear.

The next train to pass wasn't actually though the Tower 55 area, but a commuter move on a separate line just to the northwest.  This train, at 4:07, had TRE 567 on the west end, coupled to a set of bi-level cars.

4:16 - southbound to westbound, UP 4412, HLCX 9047 and SP 7803.

We then moved over to the terminus of the TRE system just around the corner to the southwest from the "intermodal" station.  This stop is located in front of the ornate Texas and Pacific building.  At 4:50 we saw another RDC set come into this station with TRE 2013 on the west end and 2010 on the east.  Rich visited with the engineer for a while before they reversed directions and pulled out at 5:09.  Tower 55 is visible at the right side of the previous picture, under the white interstate highway structure.

The "real" railroad tracks pass just to the south of the commuter terminal, and we did catch a couple of trains while we were on the platform.  At 5:03 an eastbound with UP 4381 and 4384 pulled up to wait for a signal to go south at the junction.  They would be stuck here for more than an hour waiting on other traffic.  They were passed at 5:20 by another freight with UP 9175 and 8242.

Just before 5:30 we caught a glimpse of Amtrak train No. 21 coming from the east and turning south at the junction.  They were one of three moves, including northbound BNSF 8811, going on simultaneously in the Fort Worth railroad "mixmaster".  Wes said that the Amtrak train would back into the "intermodal" station and be refueled before continuing to the south.

We stayed at the T&P terminal for one more Trinity Railway Express train, which arrived at 5:33.  The loco, TRE 565 was on the west end of the bi-level car set, with control car TRE 1002 on the east.

At my request, we hustled back to Tower 55 to try to catch the Texas Eagle's departure.  We got there in time for a northbound SATX empty with UP 6579 and SP 114 in front, followed by UP 7168 and 6778 behind.  A southbound train with NS power was held for Amtrak, which came out of the depot at 6:17.  In No. 21 this afternoon:

AMTK 190 and 9
Baggage 1267
Transition Sleeper 39034
Sleeper 32059
Diner 38015
Coaches 35008, 31517 and 34061
Sleeper 32033
No Freight!
After Amtrak passed the junction, UP 4381 was finally allowed to come around the corner and head south.  The NS-led train came around the northwest leg behind them with NS 8891, ex-CNW UP 9778 and GCFX 6034.

At this point we Iowans requested a little break before supper and repaired to the motel.  We met up with Wes and his family later for (authentic) Texas BBQ.  After supper Wes, Rich, Amy and I went to the BNSF's James J. Hill Network Operations Center, where most of BNSF's dispatchers work.

The dispatching center is pretty impressive, with around 140 "pods" for dispatchers, plus a number of cubicles for support personnel.  Each dispatcher work station is set up with at least five computer screens, used to answer the radios and to display track diagrams, train sheets, warrants and so forth.  There is a regular Windows NT screen where dispatchers log into the processes they use and where they can access the Internet.

Some pods have extra screens displaying train status and allowing "shadow" display of other territories.  This shadow display in the Kansas City pod shows at the top a portion of the Omaha line.  Amtrak No. 5 was just out of Creston (A1, upper right) when we stopped by at 9:30.  Dispatcher S.L.Y. (Steve Yost) was on duty at the KC desk when we visited, with J.E.W. across the aisle at the Ottumwa pod.

Rich was interested in talking to Steve about the Omaha line track diagram because he (as an engineer on Amtrak) had been routed through the diverging leg of a turnout only to find nothing holding the other main.  The sections of 2-Main track on the Omaha line are fairly long, and for the Zephyr, this results in slowing to 50 mph instead of continuing at 79 mph.  The answer to the mystery was on the dispatcher's track diagram, which showed the turnout to be equilateral, with no preferred route.

We left the center as the shift change was beginning around 10:30.  The entry area to the center includes four passenger cars, like the Yellowstone River, and there is a small museum which we checked out on Tuesday.  After driving until 4:30 in the morning, we were all ready for a little sleep.  We arranged to meet Wes on Tuesday afternoon and turned in back at the motel.

Around 2:00 on Tuesday we met Wes as he was going into the center to start his dispatching shift.  This timing allowed us to catch some of the first shift personnel like J.A.W. on the KC desk and railbuff K.R.S. (Kevin Schelen) on the Ottumwa side, here giving a warrant to BN 9629 East.  I'd met Kevin several times in the past at model railroad meets, but I think he was a bit surprised to see me walk into his "pod", and at first he didn't recognize me.  Before long he was in the "foamer" mode, however and telling me about coming improvements to the Ottumwa sub and how they were going to "bury the U.P."

I asked Rich to take a picture of Wes and me.  Unfortunately the camera focused elsewhere, but there it is for what it's worth.  You can see a much better picture of Wes by visiting his Southwest Shorts web site.  Wes sat down to a huge pile of work to do, with several trains on each side of the CTC at Albia and a large number of warrants and authorities out to maintenance personnel.  I watched as the computer composed a complicated track authority in CTC, working from the mouse clicks on the track diagram.  It even added Wes's initials!

We got ourselves out of the way as W.S.C. replaced J.A.W. and J.E.W. took over for K.R.S.  We made a quick visit to the BNSF's museumnext door and then were on the road again.  We made Indianola at 2:15 a.m. Wednesday, collecting only a warning ticket from a friendly trooper in Kansas (or was it Oklahoma?).  Whichever - it was a long drive, but a great excursion!

That's It!