Fly like An Eagle
We had a few errands on tap for this past Saturday, May 19, 2012, none of which involved anything railroad related. Perpetual optimist that I am, I grabbed a camera and an extra lens before we headed out in search of some new planters.
We checked out several stores on our side of town but did not find anything that met my wife’s requirements (large, pretty, and cheap), so I suggested we head into Houston to continue the search. After checking out a few other stores and not finding anything worthwhile, we gave up the search for the perfect planter around 5:15 PM. But the trip to Houston didn’t have to be a complete bust; the sun was out and I had a camera.
As we were near downtown, I thought I’d take a look at Bringhurst (MP 359.85 on the Terminal sub) and see if there might be a westbound waiting to depart. As I looked east from the Eastex Freeway feeder road overpass, I saw a headlight. Thinking that the train was on the move, I stopped and quickly set up for a shot of what appeared to be a somewhat faded, gray KCS on the point.
When it became apparent that the train wasn’t moving, I retreated to the car to wait and see what the plan was. Within a few minutes, I hear the DS call for the QEWWC, UP 1982.
I instantly realize that the “somewhat faded KCS” engine I had seen was actually UP 1982, the Missouri Pacific heritage engine! Sweet! Or maybe not. There’s literally one cloud in the sky, and it just slowly drifted in front of the sun. Even more annoying, the train, 1/2 mile away, was in full sun. Since the crew on the QEWWC didn’t respond to the dispatcher, I decided to make the quick dash to Bringhurst to get the train in full sun.
You know where this is going, don’t you? In the 2 minutes it took me to get on to Liberty Road and look south toward the track, the train had pulled, taking with it my vision of a nice overhead shot of the MP heritage engine.
As I started thinking how far I’d have to go to get decent light on the QEWWC, the radio comes to life again, this time with AMTK 95 on the westbound Sunset Limited calling an approach signal at CP LF360. It’s right behind the QEWWC!
I put the QEWWC on the back burner, knowing that I could shoot it in the Sugar Land area when we headed home. I headed to CP H232, Tower 26. This is where main 2 diverges to head into the Amtrak Depot.
The last 20 cars and DPU’s of the QEWWC went by as I was setting up. As soon as it cleared up, AMTK 95′s headlight was in view. It passed by me at 5:45 PM, about 25 minutes ahead of schedule based on its 6:18 PM scheduled arrival into the depot.
As I got back into the car, I heard the MP 366.4 detector (just east of Eureka) go off , signifying that the QEWWC was about 6 miles ahead of me. No problem. I would be getting on the freeway shortly for the 27 mile trip to MP 25, the east switch of Sugar Land, where I knew the light would be nice.
As I passed by West Junction, lo and behold, there was the head end of the QEWWC, making the turn off of the Terminal sub on to the Glidden sub!
Wonderful. The train is entering 60 mph railroad and I still have to deal with traffic lights in Stafford and Sugar Land. The detector at MP 15.6 advised that the train was traveling at 49 mph, giving me hope that I would make it.
When it was all said and done, I was able to get to MP 25 with a minute or two to spare, allowing me to get my first shots of the Missouri Pacific heritage engine on the Glidden sub at 6:24 PM.
The UP operating plan calls for DPU’s on the QEWWC / QWCEW trains regardless of train size.
Once the train was by me, I took a moment to calculate just how quickly this train got here from downtown Houston. It passed Tower 26 at 5:40 PM. It covered the 27 miles to Sugar Land in 44 minutes, giving it an average speed of 37 mph. It may not seem that fast, but when you consider just how much congestion trains typically have to navigate while passing through the Houston terminal, this train was flying!
We still hadn’t found our planters. There’s a WalMart a mile or so from where we were, so we headed there to try our luck. Luck was with us as we were able to find 2 planters that met my wife’s specs. We got back in the car about 7:15 PM, ready to get some dinner.
I mentioned to my wife that Amtrak was due shortly through Sugar Land, it would only take a few minutes, and then we’d eat. She was OK with the plan as long as it didn’t take more than a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, the detector at 15.6 announced a train with 36 axles travelling at 55mph, so I knew the plan would work.
I opted to try something a little different with today’s shot of #1, setting up at a little curve near MP 26. At 7:32 PM, AMTK 95 blew by, doing a good 60 mph.
At this point, we headed straight to dinner. I was satisfied because I was able to get some quality railfanning in while tending to domestic matters. My wife was satisfied because my railfanning didn’t take away too much from what she wanted to accomplish. I love a happy ending!
Let me follow-up on the speed of the QEWWC, between downtown and Sugar Land. It covered the 27 miles in 44 minutes, giving it an average speed of 37 mph. Big whoop?
Amtrak departed the depot at 6:55 PM, passing by me at MP 26 at 7:32 PM, traveling 26 miles in 37 minutes. Its average speed was 42 mph for this stretch, only 5 mph faster than the 522 axle long QEWWC.
Of course, that’s not a typical speed for a freight train trying to get out of Houston. But it does show you how quickly a freight train can get out-of-town when it doesn’t have to deal with MOW, crossing protection / slow orders, or oncoming trains.