Illinois Central
Amtrak Inspection Train
March 12, 1997

This message from Thomas Persoon appeared on the Railroad List last weekend, and was an invitation to make an excursion that I couldn't resist.

Date:         Sun, 9 Mar 1997 18:10:40 -0600
Reply-To: The Railroad List ,
        Tom Persoon 
Sender: The Railroad List 
From: Tom Persoon 
Subject:      Special Amtrak move- IL, IA
To: Multiple recipients of list RAILROAD 

An employee of the Iowa Interstate RR tells me Amtrak will be making a
special move this week.  A train consisting of an F40 and 3 or 4 cars is
scheduled to leave Chicago on Wed 3/12 and travel over Chicago Central/IC
rails to Fort Dodge, where it will spend the night.  On Thursday 3/13 the
train will continue on to Council Bluffs, where it will enter IAIS rails
and travel to either Des Moines or Newton.  After spending Thursday nite in
one of those towns, the train will continue via IAIS rails to Chicago.
Does anyone on the list know why this move is being made?

This message is cross-posted to the Railroad and OS lists; apologies for


Tom Persoon

I left Indianola a little before 8:00, figuring that I would have plenty of time to get trackside on the IC before the inspection train would make it over here from Illinois. I decided to follow the UP (ex-CNW, ex-RI) "Spine Line" north to Iowa Falls, where it crosses the IC at Mills Tower.

A northbound UP train, the DMEG, was just getting a warrant as I came through Des Moines. I drove out northeast of the city and waited for it on a wooden bridge, just up the line from "Swanwood Hill". The 15 car train came under the bridge at 8:30 with UP 2984 and B4116 in the lead.

I paced the Des Moines - Eagle Grove train, consisting of 4 gondolas of scrap metal, 3 rusty box cars, 4 covered hoppers and 4 empty flat cars, north toward Cambridge. They passed the Elkhart detector with no problems. They were to go through the siding at Cambridge around a southbound (the PRKS) that had tied up with its power behind the rear of the train. The south end of the Cambridge siding is inaccessable, so the crew being relieved had run around their train to the north end. At 9:00, the DMEG came around the engines of the PRKS, CNW 6913 and UP 3500, where the relief crew was already aboard. They pulled their train through the spring switch and headed for Chicago Junction, where the Spine Line and the east-west mains of the UP connect.

I went on to Nevada and out to the east end, where a new siding for the Spine Line was being aligned and ballast-regulated this morning. Just as I crossed the UP mains, a very short eastbound showed up. CNW 4711 and 5529, with one company (CNW) gondola came over the county road S27 crossing at 9:50.

I went on north along the Spine Line. I'd heard a southbound train get a warrant at Iowa Falls, so I kept an eye on the block signals. At McCallsburg, the signal to the north was red, so I waited there to see a coal empty come by at 10:15. The unit train, of NSPX aluminum hoppers, had UP 9478 and 9548 on the point. As you'll see in the picture, it's sometimes hard to juggle the cassette and camera at the same time!

I stopped for a minute in Garden City to take a picture of the Prarie Land cooperative switcher. There were no more trains on the Spine Line this morning, and I reached the Illinois Central tracks just before 11:00. I drove on into Iowa Falls, where CNW 4702 was doing some switching. I got some take-out and went to Mills Tower to eat my lunch. Mills, Iowa's last active railroad interlocking tower, was closed in 1993, but the tower building and several nearby structures are being preserved and are now surrounded by a serious security fence.

I decided to go west along the IC in the afternoon. I stopped at Iowa Limestone Company to get a shot of one of a number of 3-bay ITGX 9600-series hoppers sitting at a loading facility. ILC has a large cement plant at the end of a UP spur running west out of Iowa Falls to Alden.

I stopped along the IC in Williams to investigate some new cars that I spotted on the siding there. These turned out to be aluminum covered hoppers for grain loading, carrying STLX reporting marks and numbered in the 7000s.

Up to this point, I'd heard nothing from the IC channels on my scanner, but just after I passed Blairsburg, I spotted a westbound. I turned around and drove back into town to intercept it. This train was almost entirely grain hoppers, except for a few cars on the rear end of the train. Powered by IC units 9612, 9620, 6151 and 6030, they were through town at 12:50. They called the dispatcher and were given a warrant to go on east to Mills. No word on my passenger train yet.

I stopped and poked around in Webster City, where the UP and IC cross, for a few minutes, but there was nothing much to see. The tracks parallel old highway 20 very closely west of Webster City until Duncombe. There, the road jogs north a mile or so and continues on into Fort Dodge. As I was going along this portion, I spotted a couple of black units switching out in the middle of the fields. I followed a couple of gravel roads toward them, and found IC 8407 and 8400 putting together a short train at 1:50. Both of these units carried the Operation Lifesaver logo, and were in fairly fresh paint.

I struck up a conversation with the conductor (Pete) of what turned out to be the Ackley Turn. He said they were told that they'd probably meet the passenger train, which was running as Amtrak 316 West, in or near Iowa Falls around 5:00 p.m. He also said that his engineer had brought along a camera in hopes of getting a picture. No one seemed to be sure what the purpose of the train was, but it was known to have IC officials aboard.

I had planned on going on over to Fort Dodge, where the passenger train was to tie up, but decided to just work back east with the local, figuring that we'd both meet the Amtrak train somewhere along the line. After another stop for switching between Duncombe and Webster City, the train pulled into Webster City and crossed the UP diamond. Just east of the diamond, they switched the Frigidaire plant, shoving around a number of very rusty old excess-height box cars lettered for the Chicago Central. Switching here and along the line required flying drops, which this veteran crew (Pete had worked at one time for the CGW) executed smoothly.

After finishing the work in Webster City, 8407’s crew shoved their train back into the siding to wait on a westbound. While we waited, I checked out some old IC wayside buildings marked with bright green Xs. I assume that these, and others I saw similarly marked, might be slated for removal.

Referred to on the radio as a "stack" train, the westbound did indeed have some intermodals near the head end, but was mostly normal manifest freight. It arrived at 3:30 behind IC 9603 and 3104. As the westbound passed, 8407 started rolling back east toward the end of the siding. The Ackley Turn, with one STLX covered hopper, two old CC boxcars (Conversation: "They can’t put any refrigerators in that one...They should make refrigerators out of that one!"), and 20 long ammonia fertilizer tank cars headed on east toward Williams.

Back at Williams at 4:00, the local was to pick up 50 covered hoppers. These were to be taken east a few miles to Alden and spotted at the elevator. After they cut off from their cars, entered the siding, shoved the hoppers together and started pulling them back out to the east, the dispatcher started worrying about where they were going to meet the passenger train. The siding at Williams wasn't long enough to hold their train and the hoppers, and the passenger train was now just 30 miles away.

After quite a bit of discussion on the radio, they were told to drop what they were doing and get in the clear at Alden. So, the hoppers were shoved back into the siding, the crossing cut, and the local headed on east toward the on-coming passenger train. The conductor, none too happy with the way things were going, asked me for a ride. He got in the Jeep and we hurried over to the elevator at Alden, making the 13 mile trip with a couple of minutes to spare before 8407 arrived. I dropped him off right by the switch at the west end of the Alden siding. At 4:50, the local scooted into the clear, with the passenger train headlight showing to the east.

In just a couple of minutes, the special train arrived. Ahead of ATK 316 was IC 9630. The train had three cars, an Amtrak coach, a blue heavyweight PV observation, "Georgia", and an IC executive observation/inspection car. I hung around for a minute to say goodbye to Pete and to commiserate. They'd now have to get a warrant to go back to Williams and pick up the hoppers, basically wasting an hour of a three-man crew’s time so that the inspection train didn't have to stop for 5 minutes. Pete recognized the division superintendent on 9630. Helluva way to run a railroad, as they say.

I went back into Iowa Falls to thaw out (at 38 degrees with a 25 mph southeast breeze, it was cold out there!) and get some supper. On the way back south toward home, I stopped in Buckeye about 6:00, where there was to be a meet. Northbound CNW 6881 and 6866, on the point of a grain train, were already waiting, holding the main. At 6:30, a southbound unit coal empty arrived and entered the siding. The SFIX tub gondolas in this train were pulled by CNW 8529 and UP 9467. By now, it was getting pretty dark for train-watching and picture taking, so I paced 8529 back down to Nevada and then got on I-35 for a quick trip south. I got back to Indianola around 8:30.

That's It!