Two Amtrak Day

Monday, August 31


I know, it's been quite a while since I've had a whole day to chase trains.  What have I been doing this summer?  Teaching Physics!  I once did this for Indianola High School, and this spring, Simpson College asked if I might be interested in handling the second half of Physics 152.  It had been about 25 years since I'd taught the subject, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, but a lot of work as well.  The summer version of the course is five weeks of 9:00 to 12:30, five days a week.  It was pretty intense.  Eighteen problem assignments, fourteen labs and many hours of lecture later, I wonder if I'd do it again?  Maybe!

This fall, for the first time in 44 years, I do not have a class to teach, either full or part time.  I'm unemployed!  With Susan back at work teaching in Des Moines, things have quieted down somewhat here at the ranch and I can take some time to railfan.  Monday's forecast was perfect - I got away about 6:30 on a clear and cool (46°) morning and headed south for the BNSF mainlines at Chariton.  Before long, the talk on the radio revealed that there would be some very long maintenance windows today, primarily affecting the normally eastbound track, Main 2.

I got trackside in Chariton about 7:15, and parked north of the Curtis Ave. grade crossing.  There was a Herzog ballast train on the north side of the Chariton yard, with BNSF 6094 and ??95 on the point.  I heard one train get a warrant to go from MP 354 to Halpin on Main 2, and it appeared at the west end of town at 7:40.  This was the DENGAL (I learned later) with BNSF 5653 and 5641 leading.  They were the last train to use Main 2, and the detector at Russell reported them at 368 axles.

I called Julie to check on the Zephyr and learned that it was on time today.  This would put it into Chariton a little after 9:00, so I made a quick run to Casey's and returned to the west end of the yard.  The passenger train reported its times at Osceola as ":41 and :45".  I heard a Form B given for both mains that covered most of the line between Chariton and Melrose (MP 331.4 through MP 322.9), and most of the day, from 08:30 to 18:00.  There was also interesting talk among the maintenance people of, "Two, 'T' 'W' 'O', Amtraks today...", back to back.  Around 9:00, I could hear AMTK 139 calling the foreman to get permission to come through the Form B limits.

The eastbound Zephyr showed up on Main 1 just before 9:15, with units 139 and 142 leading.  Before long they got permission to come through the Form B.  The Russell detector reported no defects, 44 axles and 57° as the California Zephyr passed.  In just under one half hour, the second Amtrak came into Chariton.  I had no idea what to expect, though I'd heard by now that this train had been, "diverted off the UP".  The second passenger train, with AMTK 157 on the point, was covered with graphics announcing "Disney's Christmas Carol Tour".  The short (30 axle) train had an observation car trailing.

I knew from the radio that there were several westbounds being held east of Halpin until the two Amtrak trains got through, so I decided to move east down the line and get into the limits of the Form B at Russell.  I had opportunities there to observe assorted equipment, such as a crane, welder, a portable portapotty and something to do with spikes.  Between passing machines I worked the crossword, which on Monday doesn't take much effort.  At 10:40 I heard the first of four westbounds obtain a warrant on Main 1 from Halpin to MP 343.  These trains were running short on hours to work and the dispatcher was anxious to get them through.

With the delay entering the Form B, it was almost an hour before the first train got to Russell.  This coal empty, with FSTX tub gondolas and CSXT 8707 and 478 on the point, registered 544 axles on the detector.  This train was given a speed restriction at MP 329.  The next one was instructed to stop at that milepost and call for instructions.  It arrived at 11:45, UCEX hoppers with BNSF 6210 and 6402 in front and BNSF 6131 and 6088 as distributed power at the rear.  The detector reported the train as "too slow" for an axle count.

The westbounds were obtaining warrants at Halpin about every 15 minutes (10:40, 10:53, 11:09 and 11:24), but there seemed to be growing concern on the part of the crews about making it to Creston on hours today.  The foreman managed to confuse the engine numbers between the third and fourth trains and told one of the them to come to MP 329 and stop.  He was told, "That's where we are already.", but he argued, thinking (I guess) that the crew didn't know where they were?  Tempers grew short, "Yeah, ya hold us for two and a half hours and we're gonna die!"

I decided to make a quick return to Chariton to get a sandwich and wait at the west end of the yard again.  The third train arrived there just after 12:30 with TILX tubs and BNSF 9380, 9506 and 8873.  The detector had announced that this one was "too slow" also.  Number four was 20 minutes behind with UCEX hoppers, BNSF 5873 in front and 5648 at the rear.  This one didn't have to stop inside the Form B and the Russell detector counted 540 axles on it.

Knowing that nothing would be moving through Chariton for the several hours, I turned on the UP channels on the scanner and headed north toward home.  Almost immediately I heard a northbound getting a box seven, "after", warrant for a meet at Williamson.  I got there about 1:15, and saw the rear of the northbound in the siding and the signals to the south red.  I thought maybe I'd missed the meet, but as I started out of town I heard the Melcher detector, and then the southbound called the dispatcher about an "approach at Williamson".  I returned to the south end of the siding and found that the signal was now cleared at CPU030 for the approaching train.

At 1:40 I caught the southbound manifest, with UP 5936 and 6009 in the lead.  The northbound was on the move by the time I was leaving the siding, and I drove ahead to the north end of Melcher to catch them from an overpass.  This freight train, the M-NLDM, had 476 axles and was led by UP 4743 and 9592.

As I approached Pleasantville, I could hear some switching on the BNSF channel, and I found the WQMDMO was in town, dropping off cars in the Cascade siding.  The State Street grade crossing was blocked, and I and others waited for over 20 minutes after the locos were back on for the train to get its air and very, very slowly move on west out of town.  Of course, if you, "bottle the air", it will show up on the black box download and you'll get in trouble, so you just have to pump and wait!  I stopped to visit with my brother in law, who lives just north of the grade crossing and was informed that the DMO had had the crossing blocked for 58 minutes, somewhat over the legal limit, I think.

That's It!