Along the BNSF

Wednesday, November 13



Wednesday was "Campus Day" at Simpson, for which classes are canceled and students do community service projects.  I took advantage of the relatively warm weather and the day off to visit the BNSF between Chariton and Creston.  I left home early, around 6:45, and headed south down Hwy. 69 toward Osceola.  It was partly cloudy and 30 degrees, with a forecast for highs in the 60's that afternoon.  On the way down I spotted a neat pre-dawn reflection in a pond and had to pull over for some non-rail pictures.

The railroad radio was busy, with a tie gang trying to get onto the tracks over by the CTC limits at Halpin.  Dispatcher MSG was carefully guarding the "precious" time on track, however, and insisted that the gang call back when they were actually ready to go to work.  While driving I also picked up some information on rail traffic:  Amtrak was finalled into Creston for 8:45 and eastbound BNSF 9869 was running ahead of it, having reported out of Creston at 6:52.  I learned of two westbounders, 5397 leaving the electric plant near Chillicothe, and 9266 at Ottumwa.  I decided to go to a curve out west of Osceola where the light would be good for an eastbound and await 9869.

At 7:26 I caught the tail end of a detector announcement on the scanner.  Apparently there was another westbound ahead of 5397, since I'd heard it at Halpin at 6:50, and getting to the Osceola detector in 36 minutes would have required the train to average 83 mph.  I could soon hear the horns of a train coming through town, and at 7:30 I got some shots as the train approached and rounded the curve.  On the point were BNSF 9991 and 8842.  This CEFX empty had picked up a few tank cars of diesel fuel brought down from Des Moines and was taking them to Lincoln before continuing west for another load of coal.

The signal on Main 2 remained green as the coal empty passed, so I figured 9869 West wasn't too close yet.  At 7:43 I heard the trains exchanging, "Okay on...", messages and at 7:50 my westbound appeared.  This train turned out to be a 115 car set of COMX hoppers pulled by BNSF 9869, EMD 9021 and 9072, and BNSF 9967.

I decided to move west to another location for my next pictures.  I heard the Osceola detector again at 7:55, this time reporting 518 axles on Main 1.  I pulled over at Thayer and parked on an old wooden overpass to let this westbound catch up to me.  They came over the top of the hill at 8:11, and came slowly down the hill toward me.  I got a number of shots as BNSF 5397, 5396 and 9732 passed under me and took their OGSX tub gondolas across Thayer's one and only grade crossing.  This 125 car train was the one from the ISU (as it's still known on the railroad) electric plant, and was undoubtedly a distributed power train when eastbound.

My next stop was near the detector at the east end of the Talmage Hill area, MP 378.8.  A bridge here spans a small waterway and the abandoned right of way of the Chicago and Great Western.  From radio transmissions it was apparent that westbounds were starting to stack up west of Creston awaiting outbound crews.  Another came by me at 8:55.  This train had two units that had not been relettered for BNSF yet, 9266 and 9210, trailing 116 UCEX hoppers.  Before the coal empty was off of the signal circuit, Main 2 dropped to yellow, indicating to me that Amtrak was now out of Creston and headed my way.

Today's No. 6, with Leroy Lucas at the throttle and Conductor "Doc" Livingston aboard, appeared at 9:03, running about 45 minutes late.  The short (72 axle) train came down onto the bridge and sped across before passing in front of my parking place near the detector.

After the Zephyr had passed, I drove on west toward Creston, stopping once in Afton to get another shot of 9266, which was now the third in line waiting to get in for a crew change.

I got to Creston around 9:30.  It had warmed up considerably, almost to 50 degrees, but the nice early morning sunlight had been replaced with a general overcast.  One coal load sat in the yard, CWEX cars with BN 9528 and 9595.  I'd heard the dispatcher say earlier that there were no crews called for eastbounds until 13:00.  There were several GeeP's working here and there in the yard.  Among them, I spotted BNSF 2343 and 2776.

At 9:38 the first of a fleet of westbounds started out.  This train had BN 9532 and BNSF 8262 on the point and a unit consist of DTCX tubs.  At 9:54 the first train I'd seen in the morning, with BNSF 9991 and 8842, made a crew change at the yard office and started west.  I shot pictures of it from New York Avenue, a couple of blocks west of the old depot, and followed as it headed under the "Nebraska Division" signal bridge.

The next westbound, 5397, cleared their warrant just after 10:00 and reported a wait of one and a half hours before getting into the yard.  By 10:14 the train had a fresh crew and was on the move again, following 9991 out of the Creston yard.

At 10:30 I decided to drive back east and see what I could intercept over by Osceola or Chariton.  From the scanner I learned that there were a couple of westbounds on the way, but they were still well to the east of me.  I drove all the way back to Chariton, got some lunch and waited at the west end of Chariton yard.  FURX 3039 had gotten a warrant at Halpin at 11:22, and it sounded like there was at least one train running ahead of them.

At 11:52 the Russell detector announced for Main 1, and at 11:58 another coal empty showed up and rolled past the Chariton yard.  This was another set of DTCX cars pulled by BNSF 9718 (I love the classy numbering style on these old MAC's) and BN 9540.

It was about a half an hour before the FURX train tripped the Russell detector, which reported them at a modest 448 axles.  They came through Chariton at 12:36 with GCCX gondolas behind FURX 3039 and CSX 8104.

I decided to chase them back to the west and also to try to intercept the first load out of Creston.  After starting out of town I realized that I was low on fuel, so I went to Casey's before taking up the pursuit.  3039 got a pretty good head start and hit the Osceola detector when I was still about six miles east of town.  I managed to get ahead, however, and went back to the Thayer bridge to catch two trains.

At 1:37 the FURX empty reappeared and came down the hill into Thayer.  When I turned around to get some shots of them going away, I could see the signal on Main 2 had already dropped.  In a minute, the headlight of the eastbound was visible.

The eastbound train turned out to be the CWEX load that had been parked in the Creston yard earlier.  They cleared the rear of the FURX train, with BN 9528 and 9595 in charge, and headed up the hill.  I got a few shots of the train as it pulled slowly away and then took off eastbound again.

One got away.  I spotted a westbound from Hwy. 34 near Murray and heard it trading "Okay" messages with 9528.  Before heading home I got 9528 again at the curves west of Osceola.  They came to the curve and passed by at 2:00.  You can see that the day had become pretty cloudy, it was 60 degrees with a strong south breeze by this time.

That's It!