Yesterday, May 8, 2013, I was able to catch two trains on my way home from an afternoon video job in downtown Houston. It was 7 PM already and the light wasn’t particularly good. But it was good enough for me to try my luck. Little did I know that when I was done, I would be reminded of the wisdom of our parents’ instruction to us before crossing the street: always look both ways.
First up was a westbound BNSF manifest led by C44-9W 4178 which I shot at CP SA020 in Stafford. The “pointy” structure visible 8-10 cars back is a monument at the entrance to Stafford along Hwy 90.
I had to work to hold the camera steady for my second shot of this train. When I saw the engineer greeting me through the viewfinder, I couldn’t help but laugh. He was waving his hands wildly from side to side. Click the below image for a better view of his greeting.
As the head end got by me, I had no intention of trying a going-away shot. So-so light, a ho-hum consist, why bother, right? I turned to my right just to watch the power recede when I noticed the interesting interplay of light between the tank cars, so I quickly raised the camera for a couple of going-away views. This is the one I liked best:
Assuming an on-time departure from the Houston depot, Amtrak #1 will pass through Stafford about 7:25 PM. Julie advised that #1 did in fact depart on time at 6:55 PM. Nevertheless, 7:25 PM came and went, with no sign of the Sunset Limited.
It wasn’t until 7:55 PM that AMTK 88 got to me at MP 21, moments before sunset. There wasn’t much light, but you don’t need much at ISO 2500.
My going-away shot experience with the previous train had me ready. As soon as the power passed me, I was ready for the going away shot, or so I thought. As soon as I saw the strong glint light, I wanted to panic. My camera setting were all wrong for the bright reflected sunlight. All I could do is blindly compensate as I was tripping the camera shutter.
Once the train passed by, I wasn’t too anxious to see my results. I really expected the going-away shots to be a disaster because I wasn’t expecting the strong glint and blind camera settings adjustments rarely end well.
Once I mustered the courage to look at the shots on the camera LCD, I was amazed. Amazed at how nice the shots were, but even more amazed that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the dramatic sunset glint light bouncing off of the train.
The photographic purist in me wasn’t happy with the power lines in the background, but the rest of me was quite happy with the results. And quite glad that I remembered to look both ways.
As of 5:00 PM yesterday, April 15, 2013, Union Pacific cut in 4.5 miles of new main line between Heacker (CP SA014) and what had been the west switch of Missouri City (CP SA019). You might recall some previous posts here showing the double track construction project as it progressed.
One of the first trains to traverse the new main was Amtrak’s Sunset Limited. I had received word that today’s #1 would be more interesting than usual because it would have Heritage P42 184 on the point and 2 private cars on the rear.
As I had covered an afternoon deposition near the Galleria, CP LF372 was a convenient spot for my first shots. It was very cloudy, but nothing that ISO 2500 couldn’t take care of. At 1913, #1 blew by me doing a good 60mph.
Houston rush-hour traffic being what it is, I didn’t think I’d be able to get another shot of this train. But the Sunset had to wait at Heacker for about 10 minutes before it could get clearance through the various Form B and C bulletins in place. As such, I was able to set up in Missouri City with plenty of time to spare.
The next image shows where the new main, main 1, ties into the east end of Missouri City siding. The switch was slated to be removed today.
It’s become quite dark by the time #1 got by me at 1941 requiring the 5D II’s maximum ISO of 6400. Note how the hi-rail’s headlights light up the side of the Superliners.
The train had a 15mph slow order through here so I was able to get ahead of the train one last time. I went to the curve just west of CP SA020 in Stafford where I caught #1 at 1948 accelerating as it cleared the limits of the westernmost Form B.
To the extent Amtrak’s Heritage locomotives don’t get assigned to the Sunset Limited often, it’s not surprising that I’ve never been able to catch one in nice weather. Hopefully Amtrak will keep this equipment together for #2 that comes through here this upcoming Friday morning.
Edit: I wanted to note the names of the two PV’s trailing #1, but I didn’t have the hi-res images handy when I completed the post.
In the interest of staying true to my stated mission of looking at contemporary and vintage railroading, let’s step back in time and look at some images of the Santa Fe from back in the day.
Right at 40 years ago, ATSF RSD15 9814 leads a manifest in Winslow, AZ in April of 1973. Alco road power on the Santa Fe was in its very last days of mainline service by this time. They would be re-assigned to yard service where they served out their last few years before being retired by the Santa Fe. Most Santa Fe RSD15′s were scrapped by the mid-70′s, but a handful were sold to the LS&I and UTAH railroads, where they worked for another decade or so. Unfortunately, the 9814 was not one of those. By 6/74 it was stored in San Bernardino, CA pending disposition. It was sold for scrap to Precision National Corp. in 3/75.
Going back 3 years and 462 miles west, we find Santa Fe SD45 1813 leading 4 other EMD’s as they approach Cajon Summit in January of 1970 with an eastbound manifest. This stretch of track was relocated in 1972 as part of a massive realignment of the Santa Fe right-of-way that eliminated the sharpest curves and reduced the grades in the Summit area. EMD’s SD45 had a long and successful tenure on the Santa Fe. ATSF 1813 was built in June of 1966, working 25 years before being retired in 1991.
Right at 45 years ago, we’re at another iconic Southern California location, where Santa Fe GP35 1359 is blasting uphill with an eastbound at the Tehachapi Loop, aka Walong, in April of 1968. EMD’s GP35 had a longer and even more successful tenure on the Santa Fe than the SD45.
A May 1965 product of La Grange, the 1359 was re-manufactured by the Santa Fe in 1984. It became BNSF 2559 in 2000, working until 2009, when the BNSF had the unit re-built to GP39-3 specs. With its new number of BNSF 2653, this locomotive soldiers on today, oblivious of its advanced age.
Our last stop in time is 63 years ago. The only information on the slide mount of this next image is San Joaquin Valley in 1950. Nevertheless it’s my favorite image of this post, by far.
You’ve got the best seat in the house for this meet as a warbonnet powered Santa Fe passenger train blows by a zebra-striped GP7 powered manifest waiting in a siding.
With that, it’s back to the present. Admittedly, 2013 doesn’t seem as interesting as any of the 4 years we’ve visited in this post.
But the present is all we have. We really should make the best of it.
After all the storms last night, it cleared out nicely this afternoon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend much time capitalizing on the nice weather due to editing commitments.
In the middle of the editing project, the trackball mouse I use on my video editing system cratered . It’s been acting up for some time, so a trip to Fry’s was in order – strictly work related. But I took a camera and radio with me, just in case.
En route, the radio advised me of a westbound headed my way so I paused just west of the Dulles Ave. grade crossing for a quick photo-op. UP 3818, the MEWEY-20 (Manifest Englewood-East Yard), came into view shortly.
The third unit was looking particularly good. UP 8000 is an ES44AC that was built in July, 2012. Too bad it wasn’t leading.
Mixed in among the MEWEY’s hodgepodge of freight cars was a TTX 89′ flat with a 67′ PROX tank car. The tank car didn’t appear to have wreck damage, but it has certainly seen better days.
The DS advised the MOW foreman that the QEWWC-20 would be the next train by, but it was about 30 minutes behind the MEWEY. That should be just enough time to get in and out of Fry’s.
As it turned out, it took me about 45 minutes to get back trackside. But the QEWWC also took longer than expected to get cleared through the various Form B’s, so it worked out just right.
Today’s QEWWC would be operating under a few extra rules. The conductor had advised the Glidden sub DS that they were a “key train” and they also had a high-wide load.
A “Key Train” is any train with:
* one tank car load of poison or toxic inhalation hazard (PIH or TIH) (Hazard Zone A, B, C, D) or anhydrous ammonia, or;
* 20 car loads or intermodal portable tank loads of a combination of PIH or TIH (Hazard Zone A, B, C, D), anhydrous ammonia, flammable gas, Class 1.1 or 1.2 explosives, and environmentally sensitive chemicals, or;
* one or more car loads of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF), High Level Radioactive Waste (HLRW).
My understanding of the main operational difference for this train will be it will stay on the mainline for meets and it must be stopped before other trains will be able to pass by it.
I set up for UP 8385 at CP SA020, in downtown Stafford, Texas. As it came into view in the distance, the second unit seemed somewhat different.
The “somewhat different” second unit was UP 6181, a legitimate Southern Pacific heritage engine, still proudly wearing its Southern Pacific colors. Can you believe this unit will be 18 years old in May?
The high-wide load was 5 cars from the head end. Right behind it were 2 DODX flats loaded with USMC AAV-7A1 armored personnel carriers.
Two ES44AC DPU’s bring up the rear of the QEWWC as it passes the intermediates at CP SA020, shoving the train toward its final destination, the huge ex-SP yard at West Colton, California.
At this point I headed home to complete the wedding video I was working on, content that I’d been able to get in a bit of railfanning without having to play hooky. Not that anything’s wrong with that…
Continuing with my coverage of Union Pacific’s double-tracking project on the Glidden subdivision, this post will cover the area around Hillcroft Avenue in southwest Houston over the 6-week period between October 4 and November 21, 2012.
Here are 2 views from Hillcroft Avenue on October 4th. Looking east, the subgrade for the new main is nearing completion, with just a bit more fill material to be worked into the subgrade.
Looking west from Hillcroft, the subgrade is still undergoing excavation work.
Looking east from Hillcroft on November 21st, all subgrade work was completed and concrete crossties were in place to within 50 yards of the grade crossing.
Standing in the Hillcroft Avenue median and looking west, surveyor markings indicate where the second main will be.
Looking west, the subgrade near the grade crossing still lacks some work, but the remainder appears complete as crossties are already in place.
Sometimes things just work out no matter how badly the deck is stacked against you. Case in point is my 2/5/2013 chase of UP 1988, UP’s Katy heritage locomotive, on an SSPSA-05 (Special Spring-San Antonio) passenger special.
I learned of this UP Engineering Dept. special the previous day, but the call time for the train was 0300 at Spring. Even if the train was delayed, no way do I see it, especially since I had a video deposition to cover at 0900 in southeast Houston.
As I left the house at 0730, I considered grabbing the camera “just in case”, but I didn’t. It was overcast and the forecast called for more of the same, with a chance of rain. There was no reason to take the camera, right?
The deposition was over by 1130, but I had to go to Pasadena to check up on a few things. Finishing there, the trip to the Galleria area in Houston to deliver some finished work was fitful-traffic issues, missed exits, and wrong turns. Nothing was going right.
But at least it seemed to be clearing up a bit so I turned on the radio to see what might be running. You probably know what happened next. As soon as I turned the radio on, I heard UP 1988 requesting clearance through a Form B on the Terminal Sub literally one mile away from me!
Wonderful. I’m free, UP 1988 is on a special train near me, the weather is clearing up and I don’t have my camera. Let’s just say that I was slightly agitated at my predicament.
Once I had exhausted my vocabulary of expletives, I considered my options. Giving up seemed to be the prudent option, but I ruled it out immediately. Going home to get the camera was out of the question. The special would be long gone by the time I did that. But I remembered that Eric, our youngest son, happened to be home from school. Maybe he could grab my gear, jump in his truck, and meet me on the side of Hwy 59 in Sugar Land.
I called him, explained my situation, told him where the camera gear was located and agreed on a meeting point all while monitoring the SSPSA’s progress westward.
By the time I got the camera, the special was at MP 22, about 2 miles ahead of me. My only hope was to stay on the freeway past Rosenberg and hope to catch it at the Spur 10 overpass near MP 40.
It was a valiant try, but the train got there about 60 seconds before I did. I wasn’t too unhappy because the sun had taken a dive behind some thick clouds. At least I was finally in position to catch up with the train.
It took another 10 miles before I could overtake the train, setting up at the San Bernard River Bridge with all of 30 seconds to spare.
For a moment I considered declaring “mission accomplished”, but I decided to continue the pursuit. In for a dime, in for a dollar, right?
I wanted to do a proper pacing still shot, with a slow camera shutter speed, but I didn’t feel comfortable making the needed camera adjustments at 75mph. But I did use the SLR like a point & shoot, aiming the camera at the train as I overtook the head end west of East Bernard. This shot at 1/800 second is nice, but it would’ve rocked at 1/30 second. Maybe next time…
I was able to get ahead of the train, again with about a 30 second margin, at CP SA061, the east switch of Lissie.
UPP 104, the North Platte, is the sole car on the SSPSA-05.
The train would be stopping at Eagle Lake, 7 miles ahead, to drop off and pick up passengers. This allowed me to get ahead of it easily for these shots of it at the far east end of Eagle Lake.
The SSPSA is stopped at Eagle Lake for some Engineering Dept. employees to dis-board while others boarded.
Wanting just one more view of this diminutive passenger train, I headed west before the train got back on the move. The tangent from Eagle Lake (MP 69) to Ramsey (MP 73.6) is oriented west-northwest, making the shot backlit. Can’t have that. From Ramsey to Columbus (MP84), the track turns even more to the northwest (more backlit) and away from the highway.
I ended up at Glidden, CP SA086 for my last shot of the SSPSA-05 as it approached the Hwy 71 overpass. It was only 18 miles west of Eagle Lake, but you can’t put a price on good light, right?
The light was very tasty. I considered going further west with this train, but I decided to quit while I was still ahead. I was over an hour away from home and I’d already caught this train at 6 locations. Against all odds.
Let’s continue with my coverage of Union Pacific’s project to add 5 miles of double track at the far east end of its Glidden subdivision. This post will cover the vicinity near MP 15, in the vicinity of the Chimney Rock Drive grade crossing, over the 6-week period between October 4 and November 21, 2012.
Looking east toward Heacker on October 4, 2012, the roadbed appears to be substantially completed and rail for the new main has been delivered.
West of Chimney Rock, fill material is still being delivered to build up the subgrade.
Just over 2 weeks after the above images were taken, delivery and placement of crossties was taking place east of Chimney Rock on October 19th.
It’s an interesting process how the crossties come off the truck and are placed on the roadbed.
Moving forward to November 21, 2012, the new double track grade crossing for Chimney Rock Drive has been installed. The next two images are looking eastward from the west side of the grade crossing.
Looking east down the new main, it’s almost straight rail.
I’ve been remiss in keeping you up to speed on Union Pacific’s Glidden Sub double-tracking project. It’s at the far east end of the Glidden subdivision. Phase 1 of this capacity expansion effort is between CP SA014 (Heacker) and CP SA019 (Missouri City).
My first post showed the project as it was in late August of last year. This post will look at it On October 4, October 19, and November 21, 2012. This post will show the changes at Heacker over this 6 week time frame.
The roadbed is almost complete in this 10/4/2012 view of UP 3940 kicking up the dust as it leads the LHT43 local eastbound.
Concrete crossties are in place in this 10/19/2012 view, looking west from Heacker.
Moving 200 yards west, this was the view eastward and westward, respectively.
By the time of my 11/21/2012 visit, rails had been secured to the crossties. The new main is starting to come together!
A single crossover is being installed about 1/4 mile west of CP SA014. Harrisburg sub traffic, primarily BNSF, will use this crossover to access the new main.
The next post will cover the same timeframe, but from the vicinity of the Chimney Rock Drive grade crossing near MP 14.9.
I came across an unexpected sight earlier this evening. Returning from Pasadena around 7:30, I saw the silhouette of a train between switches at Sinco, near MP 8 on UP’s Strang sub. I couldn’t really see much because it was dark and a refinery tank farm was obstructing my view of the train.
I just happened to turn my head when I was even with the head end, instantly recognizing the iconic profile of EMD spartan cab locomotives. This sight required further investigation, dark and cloudy or not. I was rewarded with a sight that’s become quite uncommon in 2013 – 3 SD40-2′s leading a BNSF manifest train.
As dark as it was, I thought there was no chance to photograph this train. But I found a spot across from a Lyondell employee parking lot that just might have enough light to allow a shot of this rare bird.
A dark and cloudy night isn’t the best of conditions for a photograph, but they’ll suffice for an image of a Dash Two Trio in 2013.
Nobody likes getting the runaround, but train crews particularly dislike the runaround because of how it delays them. The runaround delays their train in two ways: waiting for the other train to overtake them and then dealing with unfavorable signal indications because they’re now following a train.
This past January 11, 2013, the Glidden sub DS told UP 5074, an ILBEW (intermodal Long Beach-Englewood) train, that he had good news and bad news for them. The Houston terminal was ready to take them in, but he had to get one train around them at Harlem. Fortunately for the ILBEW’s crew, the train that would run around them was Amtrak #2, the eastbound Sunset Limited.
The ILBEW is at CP SA029, the east end of Harlem, as AMTK 14 overtakes it. The signals facing me will stay dark until #2 knocks down the signal at CP SA029.
Forty-five seconds later, #2 passes by me at track speed.
Right after Amtrak got by me, the ILBEW got its signal and begun dragging out of the Harlem siding en route to its rendezvous with the Englewood ramp.
Two SD90MAC’s sporting their new 3500 series numbers made up the balance of the ILBEW’s power.
All in all, the ILBEW’s crew had to be pretty happy with this particular runaround. They only had to wait 10 minutes for the overtake and as fast as #2 was running, they weren’t going to be running on its blocks very long.
Enough of the current stuff – let’s go back to the 1960′s and check out some Santa Fe passenger power after dark. These images are from duplicate slides in my collection. Unfortunately, there’s not much information on the slide mounts, so I’ll let these amazing scenes from nearly 50 years ago speak for themselves.
Next up is what many say is the most beautiful diesel locomotive ever, the Alco PA1. Here we see ATSF 75 is at Fort Worth, TX. It definitely isn’t on a Texas chief, as trains 15 and 16 were scheduled into Fort Worth at 1:45 and 1:50 PM, respectively. My guess it’s power for the Angelo, trains 77 / 78 operating between Fort Worth-San Angelo.
Going to the other end of the aesthetic extreme, here’s Santa Fe U30CG 402. Based on what’s visible in the image, it appears to be at Santa Fe’s Argentine engine facility in Kansas City,KS.
Finally, here’s another view of ATSF 402. It’s paired up with a U28CG, as the train waits to finish its station stop at Barstow, CA in August of 1968.
I was able to capitalize on several hours of what passes for nice weather yesterday to catch a few trains. We just had a strong front go through southeast Texas, with several days of rain. The crystal-clear conditions that are typical after a front passes through just aren’t happening this year. A thin layer of high cirrus, with a few large sucker holes is about as good as it gets this year.
First up was the MEWEG train, UP 5193, at MP 27. There’s a nice curve here that’s typically not shootable due to overgrown vegetation. But the UP recently had several hundred yards of it cut back, probably to create a safer walk for the crew changes that take place here regularly.
The MEWEG train is a low-priority manifest to Eagle Pass, Texas. The containers in the distant background belong to an eastbound KCS train in the Sugar Land siding that’s waiting for the 5193 to clear the east switch.
Once the MEWEG cleared up, KCS 4590 pulled its intermodal eastward. Even though it wasn’t going fast, maybe 35mph, I just coudn’t get ahead of the 4590. I couldn’t get a green light on Hwy 90A to save my life. I don’t know how, but I barely made it to MP 20.5 to get this shot at the intermediate signal. (Actually, I do know how I was able to finally get ahead of the train, but I can’t talk about it. You know, 5th Amendment and everything….)
Next up was KCS 4702 with the daily Shreveport – Laredo manifest which I captured at MP 25, the east switch of Sugar Land.
The KCS local, with a one car train, waits impatiently for its turn to move east toward Houston.
As the westbound manifest was passing, I relocated about 1/2 mile east to the Brooks Street grade crossing. You might have seen it in the news recently. It’s the grade crossing where an auto carrier 18-wheeler bottomed out, getting stuck , and shortly thereafter, whacked by the KCS local this past Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.
You’ll never guess the history of the GP40 leading today’s local. It was built December 1965 as New York Central 3030, keeping the same number when it became a Penn Central / Conrail unit. Conrail returned the unit upon expiration of its 15-year equipment lease in 1980. C&NW picked it up in late 1980. It was overhauled, painted into C&NW colors, and re-numbered C&NW 5519. C&NW retired the unit, selling it to National Rail Equipment in 1989.
NRE then re-built the unit. Helm Locomotive Leasing leased it to Union Pacific, where it became UP 882 in February of 1990. It only lasted 2 years on the UP. It suffered fire damage in March 1992 and was retired by UP. Helm sent the unit to AMF in Canada, where the unit was re-built again. The unit then became KCS 4755 in Spring of 1994. It was re-numbered 2800 several years ago when KCS combined KCS and TFM locomotives into a common numbering plan. By the looks of it, it was recently re-painted into the current KCS livery. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover…
Here’s the going-away view of the KCS local as it crosses Oyster Creek en route to do its work in Houston.
MOW was getting the railroad once the KCS local got through the Form B between Heacker and Missouri City, so I took a cue from the classic Simon & Garfunkel tune and went homeward bound.