Congestion at Albia

Saturday, August 28


After running a couple of quick errands in Pleasantville early Saturday morning I headed southeast toward Albia and the BNSF mainlines.  We had a forecast of clearing weather, but at 7:00 there was a full overcast and light rain.  The BNSF had experienced some ballast washouts during heavy rains earlier in the week and work was progressing on them between Albia and Ottumwa.  I called "Julie" to see how No. 6 was doing and learned that it was expected at Osceola about 2:15 down from schedule.

On the drive down from Knoxville I could hear some activity on the radio.  A DP load (9995 leading?) had come up the south hill with helpers and was waiting at Maxon.  The dispatcher sent a freight train (likely the DENGAL) with BNSF 5352 up on Main 1.  They were still climbing the hill when I made it to the yard.  The signal at the Des Moines branch junction was flashing yellow over red.  The dispatcher called and asked how they were doing and was told that they were making 15 mph.  When asked how long until they reached Maxon, the reply was "Oh, five minutes."  You could imagine the DENGAL crew hoping that the coal load wouldn't be released ahead of them.

The freight, with 260 axles, crested the hill at 7:40.  On the point were BNSF 5352, BNSF 4718, RailLink 309 and FURX 8110.  At Maxon they were crossed over to Main 2 and run ahead of the coal load.  I drove out to the Maxon area to see the coal train and caught up to the UCEX hoppers with their rear motor, but decided not to do the "mud bog" thing trying to get to the head end at new Maxon.  From the radio I learned that the lead unit was 9816.  The rear, BNSF 8919, came by old Maxon in the rain at 8:00.  The detector east of Maxon reported this train at 524 axles.

These trains called on a Form B shortly after clearing the detector.  As it turned out, there were two trains on Main 1 between Albia and Ottumwa working on the washout today, a work extra and a Herzog ballast train.  This shut down westbound traffic fairly well, and circumstances shortly plugged Main 2 as well.  A coal load, 9801 East over near Ottumwa, had trouble with its rear motor and had apparently slowed everything through the night.  Crews were getting short on hours of service remaining and eastbounds were beginning to pile up.

After some discussion with the dispatcher about possibly going east, the pushers were sent down the hill on Main 2 and ran back to the yard on Main 1.  I went back to the yard to await their return.  They arrived at 8:30, BNSF 9928 and BNSF 9629.  I next drove out toward Maxon again, only to find my way blocked by a train of empty autoracks on Main 2.  They pulled up to the crossovers and tried to call the dispatcher, but got no response.  They called to the next train behind them and said that they were "all red" at Maxon and that they had "no paper" to go on to the east.

I drove out to an overpass on Main 1 east of Albia and got this shot of the train.  Due to the congestion ahead and their relatively low priority, they would end up backing their train onto Main 1, tying down and being relieved.  On the Ottumwa Sub. radio, I heard "...second out at Iowa Ave.", referring to Ottumwa.  There were also transmissions on the KC channel indicating a number of trains waiting between Chariton and Albia.

Albia was celebrating "Restoration Days" and the town was filling up.  A parade was being assembled on the only practical route to Maxon, so I decided to start west in hopes of getting out from under the weather as well as the street congestion.  Another call to Julie put Amtrak at 11:20 in Osceola.  Listening to EOT clicks and beeps, and unanswered calls to the dispatcher as I traveled, I drove all the way to Osceola.  The ICE dispatcher had a train approaching Ottumwa from the south and told them that he'd been, "on hold for 45 minutes" and that the "train ahead waited one hour to get across the diamond".  Things were pretty well tied up on the BNSF this morning.

I got to Osceola around 10:45 and worked on the crossword while I waited for No. 6.  They called in early to say that they were running on Main 1 today and that the coaches were in front.  Station attendant J.R. Black assembled the fares on the north side and the Zephyr appeared at 11:22, three hours and sixteen minutes late.  In the consist today:
AMTK 44, AMTK 90
Baggage 1246
Transition Sleeper 39030
Cafe Coach 35004
Coach 34002, 34063 (labeled "Coachclass")
Sightseer Lounge 33010
Diner 38050
Sleepers 32081 "Illinois" and 32062
Two box cars, two Exprestrak, one box and one roadrailer
They made a quick stop and moved slowly out of town on the north rail.

I got some lunch and, having heard an eastbound report out of Creston behind Amtrak,  returned to the depot to wait on it.  This train, running on Main 2, hit the Hwy. 69 crossing at 11:53.  It was a distributed power UCCX coal load led by BNSF 5360.  On the rear, BNSF 9951.  They were making track speed through town as you can tell by the coal dust in this picture.

From comments between crews on the radio I was aware of a number of trains waiting to get up the hill at Albia, so I started back eastward on Hwy. 34.  Amtrak went around the waiting trains on Main 1, crossed over at Halpin (Main 1 at the top of the hill was by this time blocked by the tied-down, empty autorack train) and got a warrant on "the other side" at 12:30.

The KC desk dispatcher called 5360 to tell them that a "citizen" had called to report that coal was coming out of their train on the grade crossing at MP 349.24 -near Woodburn.  They were told that "the chief" wanted them to stop and inspect their train.  I found them stopped at 12:45 with the head end at the "HyVee" crossing just west of Chariton.

By 1:00 trains were starting to move up the hill.  BNSF 9995 cleared up and got a warrant and other crews began moving ahead to the next length of rail clear of grade crossings.  On the air I learned that there were crews with only an hour or two left to work still out on trains.  It would be a long evening for the second trick dispatcher on the Ottumwa Sub. today.

By the time I got to Albia another load had started up the hill, so I went to the "double crossing" (AKA "Packing House" crossing) and waited for them to arrive.  BNSF 9400, 8200 and 8297 brought a short set (99 cars) of NOKL box gons by at a pretty good clip for the south hill at 1:48.  I headed out to Maxon but when I got to the last gravel road crossing I found that the coal load, which should have easily fit, was not quite clear of the crossing.  After a wait of about 10 minutes, they were moving again.

At a road crossing between old and new Maxon I found the empty auto train, tied down with a rather tired-looking GE chuffing away on the head end.  The dispatcher brought another load up, 119 FSTX/ESTX cars led by BNSF 9489 and BNSF 8292.  They came around the autoracks at 2:50.  At this point the work and ballast trains were ready to be put away for the night and were approaching Maxon on Main 1.

The plan was to put the work train and ballast train on the south and north sidings at Maxon.  However, the east switch of the north siding was fouled by the autos, so they would have to be moved west first.  The crew of the work train, upon returning to Maxon, was to get aboard BNSF 903, back it out of the way and then take it to the east once the ballast train was in the clear.  A number of BNSF personnel were on hand to help with the train movements.  A crew van arrived as well, ready to pick up those dying on the law.  The maintenance people meanwhile, wanted to get onto Main 2 between Maxon and Ottumwa to line and raise track.  They were obtaining warrants as I headed for home.

On the way back north along the Des Moines branch, I stopped to get some pictures of this derailment just south of Lovilia.


CIGRS Meet, August 15

The Central Iowa Garden Railroad Society met at the home of Phil and Barb Deats on Sunday afternoon.  Their layout, called the "Rose Valley Railroad" is in the back yard of their Clive residence, and includes plenty of detail to keep your eyes busy as you watch the trains.

Susan and I have now been attending CIGRS meetings for over a year, and have hosted one ourselves.  I've found it interesting to observe the different styles of garden railroad setups and to also note the trends in the hobby.  We've taken a minority stand on the layout issues, have emphasized the "garden" aspect of the hobby and have not tried to build a "model" railroad out of doors.

With a few exceptions, what I see at most of our meetings are train setups that would look pretty similar if moved indoors.  I admire the industry and determination behind these intricate setups - it would be pretty daunting to let Mother Nature have at all that detail!

That's It!