Amtrak on the Kate Shelley Bridge

November 10


For the last few days, the rail fan net had been full of messages regarding Amtrak detours this weekend.  The BNSF was going to replace more sections of their bridge over the Des Moines River near Ottumwa (known as "4-mile Bridge" to the railroaders), and this was to result in at least three of the California Zephyrs, two east and one west, running over the Union Pacific's route.  Late in the week I got an email message from my Amtrak hogger friend Rich Fertig saying that he'd been called at Lincoln, NE, for the detour on Saturday morning.  I decided to see if I could catch the train crossing the High Bridge west of Boone.

I checked Amtrak's web site at 5:30 Saturday morning, putting in LNK and OMA as the boarding and destination points.  The automated system said that the train was running on time.  A check Friday night had them running a little over an hour late.  The bridge, near MP 208, is around 140 miles from Council Bluffs where the UP would take over the train from BNSF, and the Amtrak schedule calls for a 5:55 arrival in Omaha.  I figure that even if they were on time, I had at least until 8:00 to be in position to take pictures.

I left Indianola around 6:20 on a cool and clear morning.  With the Hwy. 65 bypass we now have 65 mph speed limit roads all the way from Indianola to near Boone.  In one hour I was at Jordan, watching a WEPX coal load going by.  I stopped for a minute at the "Hard Road" crossing to get an early morning shot of a coal train in the yard with a CNW lead unit.  One fan was parked on the west side of the road watching the railroad traffic.

A westbound automobile train was just finishing up a stop for a crew change at the new yard office.  I paced them out to Division Street and then drove along side for a couple of blocks.  On the head end were UP 4137 and 4004.  I took the north way down into the river valley and drove back south under the bridge.  I stopped part way up the hill just in time to catch the auto train coming onto bridge at 7:35.

Given all the advance notice that had been on the Internet, I expected a crowd of railfans out by the bridge, but there were just a few hunters in pickups here and there.  I pulled up the hill a bit and turned around in a more convenient parking spot.  At 7:54 an eastbound stack train arrived with UP 4424, 7556, 4049 and 9629.  Except for the dust from sportsmen buzzing up and down the gravel it was a terrific morning for pictures.  I wished I'd had a longer lens for the Oly - must be about time to trade up again.

I was about to get back in the Jeep when I noticed that I had a curious observer directly across the road from me.  He let me take a couple of pictures before bounding away behind the hill to the northwest.

There was no sign of the CZ detour yet, but there seemed to be fairly heavy traffic on the bridge this morning:

8:01 - Coal Empty, company hoppers with UP 7222 and 6115
8:05 - Eastbound Intermodal with UP 9712, 9587 and 9049
8:14 - Westbound Manifest (M-PRCB) with UP 3050 and 2997
8:24 - Eastbound Autoracks with UP 7536 and GCFX 3070 (thanks, Jon Hall!)
8:31 - WEPX Coal Empty with UP 7099 and SP 227
8:45 - Grain Train behind UP 9526, 5650 and 9522
8:51 - WEPX Coal Empty with UP 8037 and 8273
At this point there was a bit of a lull in the traffic.  A call to Rich's cell phone got just his voice mail.  I took a picture of UP's hired security keeping watch below the bridge and started on the crossword puzzle from the Saturday DM Register.  At 9:15 the phone rang.  It was Rich, telling me that they had UP 3027 in the lead, were at MP 323 and making good time.  I figured them for 11:00 and decided it was time to head into town for coffee and a doughnut.

After my pit stop I checked out the yard again.  The same load, IESX cars with CNW 8804 and UP 8227, was still sitting in the yard.  I got back out to my spot on the hill just after 10:00.  Rich rang again at 10:17 to say the detour was by Arcadia, now about 60 miles away.  Things were quiet on the bridge, but traffic on the gravel road picked up.

An older full-size van stopped briefly behind me and a woman got out and took a picture of the bridge before they moved on.  A couple from Minnesota stopped their car and got out to look around.  She seemed congenial and we visited for a bit.  He, "Paul", was formerly from Ogden and this morning seemed impatient to move on.  After lecturing me on the bridge statistics, "it was both longest and highest", he returned to the car while she watched a couple of trains go over the bridge.  They moved on minutes before the Zeph arrived.

Last, an Illinois SUV stopped with a young man and two kids.  He came over, introduced himself as a chemistry prof., and said they were there for the ISU game.  He said that he'd seen my web site and recognized the license plate.  He didn't know about the detour, but stayed to see it.  This was the only other railfan I encountered Saturday morning.

While all this was going on a couple of trains passed.  At 10:50 there was a coal load pulled by CNW 8828, SP 191 UP 9431 and UP 9652.  This was the last eastbound ahead of No. 6.  Rich called again to tell me they were following a coal load and to ask how high the bridge was.  I had no idea, but I've since looked it up, it's 185 feet high and 2685 feet long.  A westbound stacker was next to cross (although the bridge is double-tracked, only one train passes over at a time) with UP 7575, 4336 and 2201.

The California Zephyr's pilot loco poked its nose out of the brush at the west end of the bridge at 11:10.  Rich gave us a wave as the train rolled out high above the river valley.  They had three Amtrak units today, but a fairly short collection of cars behind.  The train was an interesting sight stretched out on the bridge.  Here's the consist :

UP 3027, AMTK 147, 172 and 171
Baggage 1750
Transition Sleeper 39039
Sleepers 32075 and 32077
Diner 38035
Sightseer Lounge 33020
Coaches 31539, 34087 and 34026
Boxes 71004, 71144 and 71011
Material Car 1410
One Roadrailer (empty, according to the print-out I saw)
As soon as I got the last shot I turned the Jeep back to the south and headed for the highway.  The phone rang again,
"Dick we just met a westbound stacker."
"Hey, I'm rolling and almost to Highway 30!"
"Okay, we'll see you down the line!"
I drove out past the east end of the yard where the coal train ahead of No. 6 was just finishing up a crew change.  From the radio, it sounded like the dispatcher had considered bringing the Zephyr around the load here, but the coal started rolling again soon enough that he decided to just keep them in order.  I believe the Zephyr eventually got around at Marshalltown.

I picked out a spot on the curve just west of the elevators at Jordan to get pictures of the two trains.  CNW 8828 with the coal train got out of the yard and came by me at 11:26.  The Zephyr changed out the UP crew and came into sight at 11:39.  It's too bad they couldn't have had one of the P42's lead, the horns on 3027 were really sick-sounding.  I got a couple of pictures on the curve and then buzzed back down to Hwy. 30 to see if I could get ahead of them again.

My last stop was on the overpass at Kansas City Junction.  The detouring passenger train arrived there and highballed through just after noon.  Between the wye switches, they met a stacker with what appeared to be (3/5?)972 and 9173.

I had chores waiting at home for a nice day like this, so I started south on I-35 for Des Moines.  I got some lunch and paid a short visit to Short Line on the way to Indianola.  At 1:00, I caught Job 63 coming south with a drag from Hull Avenue Yard.  UP Y652 was doing the work on the head end of the cut.

Just a few minutes later the grain train I'd seen earlier on the high bridge with UP 9526, 5650 and 9522 got a warrant, came down the Spine Line across the Iowa Interstate and headed for Kansas City.  I made a quick inspection of the diamond, which is not improving much with age, and left for home.

That's It!