Ribbon Cutting And Fun On The Trip Home

On the morning of September 15th I arrived at Cadet Yard an hour before the 10:00 am scheduled start of the dedication ceremony.  While I cannot share my photos of BNSF engineering projects, since this was a news event with my photos being released to the media I can share a few here.

First up is a view from the shoulder of I410 looking west at the yard.  The UP sunset route is just out of the picture to the right.


As could be seen in the distance in the first photo, here is new GE ET44C4 #3816 positioned as a backdrop for the ceremony.


Here is a view of part of the audience as Tracye McDaniel, President of the Texas Economic Development Corporation addresses the group.


To wrap up here are two shots of the actual ribbon cutting.



Left to right are Nelson Wolff, Bexar County Judge; Trayce McDaniel, President of the Texas Economic Development Corporation; Dave Garlin, BNSF Group VP of Industrial Products; Trina Reyes, Mayor of Van Ormy; Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, President of San Antonio Economic Development Foundation; Colonel Jonathan Wright; Commander of the 502nd Installation Support Group Keesler Air Force Base; and Aaron Petersen, BNSF Superintendent of Operations Red River Division.

Following the event I took a seat in the conference room in the new yard office and processed all the photos from RAW to JPG.  I delivered the 78 best photos electronically back to Fort Worth for review and release before heading back home.  I decided to take the back road up Highway 281, and just north of Marble Falls I pulled over at one of the quarries for this view of Oldcastle Materials SD40-2 PRLX 3757 building a loaded sand train.


The LCRA radio system that Austin Western uses for dispatcher communications can only be monitored with a software defined radio dongle and a laptop with specific software, but for local switching they use AAR channel 94 that I was monitoring in my Explorer.  One of the voices I heard sounded a lot like old friend William Balzen who works for Austin Western as an engineer.  I have known William for many years since he worked as an engineer and fireman on the 2248 back when it was owned by the FWWR.

The radio transmission was very strong and close by as I was driving north through Burnet, so on a whim I turned east on Highway 29 two miles to the grade crossing where the Austin Western is climbing up the hill to Summit Yard.  I could see all the way back to the bottom of the grade from this spot, and decided to wait ten minutes and see what developed.  After only three minutes, five GP50’s pouring out exhaust as they accelerated up the grade with a string of loaded sand cars came into view.  I set up and scored these three photos in sequence.




The engineer gave me a few extra toots on the horn as the train passed, and I bet it was William at the throttle.  I would have liked to follow the train but it was after 6:00 pm and I needed to get home.  Sure enough after the train had tied up at Summit Yard and I was approaching Lampasas my phone rang and it was indeed William who had spotted me at the crossing.  As I hit the city limits of Lampasas I heard the BNSF dispatcher talking to an eastbound train that gave their location as coming down the long grade into town.  I cut over to the tracks and in less than five minutes photographed the BNSF 3855 East leading a unit grain train as the sun dropped below the tree tops.


As the train passed by I moved east towards the east end of the siding for a better lit going away shot.  While waiting I took this view of the hoppers streaming through the tall grass.


Finally  the two DPU’s rumbled by and on down towards the east switch at Lampasas.  I liked the wide scene with the signals, trees, clouds and dirt road, but since I could not read the sign at the switch so I took advantage of the zoom lens and took a tighter view a few seconds later.



This was the finish to a good trip of both event and train photography, and I rolled up to the house shortly after 9:00 pm.

On The Road To San Antonio

One of my recent assignments for BNSF was to photograph the dedication event for their new Cadet Yard in San Antonio on September 15th.  Construction started last year on ten yard tracks, one departure track and a siding that can hold up to 350 cars in Van Ormy beside the UP Sunset Route just southwest of UP’s Sosan Yard.  Cadet Yard (so named to honor the cadets at nearby Lackland Air Force base) is intended to increase efficiency of operations over Union Pacific trackage rights between the Mexican border crossing at Eagle Pass and other points in south Texas.

BNSF has two tracks at their disposal in the UP yard at Eagle Pass for inbound and outbound traffic.  This meant that before Cadet Yard trains of unblocked cars from Mexico had to travel to Temple and other BNSF yards before they could be switched.  BNSF crew changes between Eagle Pass and Temple had to take place somewhere on the busy UP main line with minimal delay.

With the dedication ceremony starting at 10:00 am on the 15th I drove down from Benbrook on the 14th with the idea photographing a few trains along the way.  Driving east through Crowley towards I35, I witnessed the tail end of a BNSF northbound empty coal train on the Fort Worth Sub main as it passed what looked like a southbound sand train in the siding.  I could not see the power on the sand train nor had I checked the BNSF computer before I left the house, so on an impulse I turned south and stopped about a mile south ahead of the train as it came out of the siding.  This turned out to be a good choice as the lead unit turned out to be a new locally built CSX ET44AH #3423.


As the cars monotonously streamed by I quickly checked the computer and saw this was a 115-car, 16,000-ton train with a 2 x 2 power configuration.  In another minute the two DPU’s roared by heading towards Cleburne.


Nothing else was close here so I took I35 south to Waco and then Highway 77 south to Cameron on the BNSF Galveston Sub.  A quick check of the computer showed no trains nearby so I drove on to Rockdale on the UP Austin Sub.  Luck was against me this time as I arrived at the restored depot 30 seconds too late to shoot a northbound UP train passing the structure.  I drove on southwest a few miles to the Rockdale, Sandow and Southern, now a Genesee & Wyoming property.  Indeed just as I drove up to their entrance I saw an orange and black MP15 switcher pulling into the shop and the door instantly closed as if they knew I was coming.  Oh well!

I drove back to Rockdale and since I was not on a strict schedule decided to wait a bit to see if I could catch another train passing the depot.  I read several back issues of Railfan & Railroad and Trains, and then was rewarded with this northbound UP intermodal with two KCS units for power.


Continuing on south, as I drove through Giddings I could see the UP Giddings Sub signals were set for a northbound to enter the siding. I did not see a shot I liked in town so I headed on south.  Between Giddings and Winchester I caught the BNSF 7320 north in a farm setting on its way from San Antonio to Temple.


With no highway bridge paralleling the railroad over the Colorado River between Winchester and West Point, I detoured the long way around to the east through La Grange where I stopped to photograph the old M-K-T depot.  One day I hope to catch a train here!



On the radio I heard the northbound BNSF train I had photographed take the siding at Giddings and be advised by the dispatcher they would be there for three southbound UP’s.  A second northbound BNSF out of Flatonia was passing West Point and going to Winchester to clear up as I left La Grange.  I arrived in West Point a few minutes ahead of the first southbound UP as it curved around the wye from Giddings towards Smithville and on to San Antonio.  La Grange is to the right across the diamond and Flatonia is behind me.


I had my UP PPE on and was checking the wye for future photo angles as the second southbound, a ballast train, came around the curve also on its way to Smithville.


The third southbound train was further back so I decided to head on south to Flatonia as it was now after 4:00 pm.  As I arrived in Flatonia I heard a detector go off about ten miles to the west and a quick check of the signals showed an eastbound was lined through town.  I worked with the afternoon sun and composed this view of the passing train to include relocated Tower 3,  an SP caboose, a park bench naming the town, and a building built in 1898 just in front of the moving locomotive.


A few seconds later I captured more of the power before the view of the lead unit was blocked by the caboose.


A much better view in my opinion than the back lit approach shot taken right before these two photos although the clouds do help it a bit.


Now it was just after 5:00 pm and I had at least a 90-minute drive ahead of me to reach San Antonio and attend a pre-event dinner at 7:00 pm.  I really had wanted to stop and visit with “Sidetrack” Tommy Shults but I had taken too long to get here so that would have to wait for another trip.  Next time Tommy!



Slaton, Texas – A Railroad Town

In 1907 the Santa Fe opened a new branch off of the Amarillo line south from Canyon to Plainview, Texas and in 1910 the tracks were extended further south to Lubbock.  What became known as the “Coleman Cutoff” to Brownwood opened in 1911.  Lubbock citizens were outraged when the new Santa Fe division point was established 15 miles to the southeast at Slaton, named by the railroad after a prominent local citizen.  One hundred and fifteen years later the situation has reversed to a degree as Slaton is still a division point, but all crews and the local yard switcher are now based out of Lubbock.

I have made four round trips this year to Fort Sumner, New Mexico to photograph the building of a new second bridge over the Pecos River to eliminate the final single track section on the Southwest Division’s part of the “Southern Transcon”.  On July 24th while driving to Fort Sumner from home I stopped in Slaton for a short while to rest and see the local sights.


Nothing was moving on either the BNSF or local switching line South Plains Railroad, so I turned my camera elsewhere.  On the north side of the city square I took these two photos of Santa Fe 2-6-2 Prairie type #1809.



Turning 180 degrees from the previous photo I could not miss the “Slaton Model Railroad Studio”.


The storefront was deserted and no hours posted, so I peeked through the windows.  I could see an HO scale layout that appeared to be in a state of disrepair, and in front of that was the old Santa Fe CTC machine for Slaton to Texico.


On the west side of the square is this beautiful mural painted by Bill “Tex” Wilson in 1998 that decorates the external wall of a local CPA.


Two inmates from the John T. Montford Psychiatric/Medical Unit assisted in the work.


Here is the “lowdown” on the aged brick streets that radiate from the square, adding character to this small town.


Next I drove about 1/4 mile north to the restored Harvey House next to the BNSF main line.  Once again no one was around but I suppose you could call the number on the door if you wanted to stay in one of their rooms overlooking the tracks.


The Harvey House is on the list of Texas Historic Landmarks and this close up of the sign tells the complete story.


Unfortunately it is true that a majority of the good shots I take these days are the property of BNSF, UP or FWWR and thus cannot be shared here.  I still take enough that are my own property so I will try to do a better job of updating these blog entries more often!

A Trip Back in Time to Riverside

With the Cajon Pass assignment for BNSF finished, Friday January 29th was my travel day back home to Texas.  My flight was scheduled to leave Ontario International Airport around 11:am, but instead of sleeping in I set my alarm for 5:00 am.  I checked out drove from San Bernardino a few miles west to Riverside, California.  The last time I had visited Riverside was during a family vacation back in February 1971 at age 16 and I was curious to see what had changed over the intervening 45 years.

One big difference was the overwhelming presence of the Metrolink commuter rail.  At 7:00 am with the moon still high in the sky and sunrise around 45 minutes away I took these two photos of a train laying over in their maintenance area.  The old Santa Fe depot can be seen in the background on the right on the other side of the double track main line.



I walked down to the Metrolink station and took this photo as the light improved.  The train on the right is about to leave for Los Angeles while the train on the left is laying over.


I drove over to the street side of the presently unoccupied Santa Fe passenger depot for these two shots.



I started to move in closer for more detailed views, but then saw to the right what I thought was just a pile of tarps start to move and half a dozen or so homeless people began to emerge from their night shrouds.  I did not have time to deal with them so I quickly left and drove over to what had been the Union Pacific passenger station.  The UP main line used to run down the middle of this street, but now the UP uses the BNSF tracks a block to the left and the building has been re-purposed.  With the tree growth this was the only decent shot I could manage.


There is not a single marker left today to indicate this was once the UP depot in Riverside, but back in 1971 that was not the case.


The tracks were definitely busy and this is where a moment later I got my only decent photo of a real “in regular freight service” DD40AX westbound towards Los Angeles.  Another DD40AX and a SD24B were trailing.


It was now 11:30 am, and the westbound City of Los Angeles was due in 31 minutes.


My parents obliged my wish to stay and I took this view of the long train pulling into the station.


Here is what this spot looks like today.


The sun was up enough now for good action photos so I drove over to the east side of the current main lines and set up a few blocks west of the Metrolink depot where the BNSF and UP main lines split.  One benefit of my work is having mobile access to BNSF’s dispatch system on my smartphone, and I could see westbound BNSF and UP intermodals heading for my location along with several Metrolink trains.

First up was this westbound commuter train heading for Los Angeles.  I understand that many of these Metroling commuter rail trains are running with a leased BNSF unit ahead of the cab car while the safety of push-pull operation is debated, but I did not see any on this day.


The going away view with Pachappa Hill in the background.


A few minutes behind was this westbound BNSF intermodal with a 2 x 2 power configuration.




Next up was a westbound UP intermodal moving onto their own tracks for the rest of the journey into Los Angeles.


As the intermodal was passing in the background another Metrolink train rolled by on the way to Los Angeles.



A few minutes later a single DPU pushing on the rear of the UP intermodal came by.


Looking at the dispatcher display on my phone I could see several BNSF and UP freight trains converging on Riverside, so I moved to the Mission Inn Avenue grade crossing just east of the old Santa Fe station.  It was here I took this photo back in 1971 of a westbound Santa Fe freight train led by EMD SD24 #4539 in the pinstripe paint scheme with a SD45 and a F45 trailing.

ATSF 4539 West Riverside CA 02-71 Print

Here is as close as I could get to the original location with a westbound UP train doing the honors 46 years later.


As the westbound passed by the Santa Fe depot, the headlights of an eastbound UP were visible in the distance coming through the Metrolink station.



It turned out to be an autorack train.


Ten minutes later a meet here was repeated except this time with two BNSF trains doing the honors.





It was time to leave for the airport, and I walked the half block to where I had parked the rental pickup.  I took this last photo of the morning looking east up Commerce Street paralleling the tracks.


Forty-five years earlier I took my last photos of that day at this same spot of two refrigerator cars at the now closed National Orange Company that were having large ice blocks crushed and conveyed into their bunkers.  A common sight in 1971 and for many years before, but now a part of history replaced by the modern technology of self-contained diesel-powered refrigeration units.



Many thanks to BNSF for providing the opportunity to revisit my past!

Day Three on Cajon Pass

I have been slow in finishing up my trip for the BNSF to Cajon Pass in late January, so let’s take care of that right now!  January 26th and 27th, 2016 were spent mainly photographing a welded rail gang at work near Summit, but January 28th was reserved for photographing intermodal and automobile trains with lead locomotives in the current paint scheme.  The day started at the west end of the narrows at Victorville with shots of trains on the flyover there.  Results were good which unfortunately means the photos belong to BNSF and I cannot share them publicly, so here is the sunrise as a consolation.


Later in the morning the video crew and myself moved back west to a hilltop at the west end of Summit where we could shoot trains coming from both directions.  Here is a westbound UP intermodal about to start down the hill to San Bernardino.


A few minutes later an eastbound UP came charging up the grade.  The Fedex truck in the background is on Interstate 15 fighting its own battle with gravity.


Next up an eastbound BNSF manifest is seen passing the interlocking at Silverwood while following the UP train on Main One.  Main Three drops away down a nearly 3% grade in the foreground.


As soon as the eastbound BNSF manifest clears the crossovers at Summit a westbound UP mainfest starts down Main Two in full dynamic braking.


One of the two units on the rear end is an ex-SP motor.


Traffic is non-stop as a few minutes later an eastbound UP intermodal passes Silverwood just west of Summit.


Almost forgotten in the background is the ex-SP now UP Palmdale Cutoff.  Note the lengthy crossover between the two lines added in the later years just below the lead unit of a westbound manifest train dropping downgrade.


One more westbound UP manifest starting downgrade from Summit and then we decided to move to the famous railfan hot spot known as Hill 582.


Hill 582 is on US Forest Service land as is most of the area around the top end of Cajon Pass and was built up several years ago by a handful of local railfans with trees and benches to make the watching of passing trains more comfortable.  It requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a hike of less than 1/2 mile to reach the spot about two miles west of Silverwood with Mains One and Two and the Palmdale Cutoff on the north side and Main Three on the south side.  Here is a BNSF manifest dropping down Main Two with some of the plantings and rock work in the foreground.


A few minutes later a UP bare table train follows along down main Two as seen from a different angle.  Note the dedications to those whose hard work made this spot possible.


In the following sequence we see a meet between a westbound UP train and an eastbound BNSF train that illustrates why this spot is a magnet for area railfans.






After a brief interlude giving time to enjoy the benches, a BNSF intermodal train is seen winding down Main Two with full dynamic brakes whining on both ends.



A few minutes later the eastbound Barstow local roars up the hill with a long train and two older GP60 units in its power consist, one of them a red warbonnet wide cab.


Looking back east to Silverwood as the local grinds past in the background, we finally get to see a westbound UP intermodal that has the proper braking versus tonnage ratio to allow it to tackle the almost 3% grade on Main Three between Silverwood and Cajon.



Our last train of the day before packing it in was an eastbound UP charging up through the deep cuts of the Palmdale Cutoff on the hillside above Mains One and Two.


In the next installment we will spend two hours in Riverside California the following morning before I had to head on to the airport for my flight back to DFW.  Photos from January 29th, 2016 will be mixed with photos I took in the same locations 45 years earlier back in 1971.

Day Two on Cajon Pass

With new UP GEVO’s and another NS heritage unit visiting north Texas out of the way, let’s get back to my visit to California’s Cajon Pass at the end of January.  The first of three days working for BNSF was primarily spent photographing a rail gang changing out worn welded rail in curves at Summit.  On Wednesday January 27th the video team and myself followed the same gang again, this time working just west of the east end of Summit where three main lines go back to two on the way to Barstow.

As before I cannot share the photos that are the property of BNSF, so here are the shots of older paint scheme BNSF power, UP units and other sights encountered along the way.  As the morning job briefing was ending behind me right at sunrise a westbound BNSF bare table train is only a few hundred yards away from starting down grade towards San Bernadino.


A few minutes later an eastbound UP train has just crested the summit and is starting downhill towards Victorville.


Later in the morning down by the job site an eastbound BNSF intermodal slows before passing the welded rail gang while the snow-capped San Gabriel mountains loom in the background.  I really liked this shot and wish this train would have been led by a locomotive in the current paint scheme.


A few minutes later an eastbound UP train followed along.


Looking east a BNSF grain train passes by the rail gang as everyone waits in the clear.  Above the lead unit and the Speed Swing you can see the ex-Southern Pacific’s Palmdale Cutoff.


From a closer prospective another eastbound BNSF passes on Main 3 while the gang stands by on Main 2.


Once we had everything we needed to finish up our work with the gang the video team and I scouted locations for Thursday which would be spent photographing BNSF intermodal and autorack trains on the west side of the pass.  We were checking out a hilltop south of CP Walker when a westbound UP autorack train caught up to us.  The first shot shows the train winding down Main 2 passing under Interstate 15.  The track above is the UP Palmdale Cutoff while Main 3 is out of sight to my right.


The next three photos show the train winding down the pass towards Mormon Rocks with the San Gabriels once again in the background.




While making our way along the forest service and railroad maintenance roads we came across the monument to the railroad employees killed when a runaway BNSF freight crashed here on Main 3 almost exactly 20 years ago.


Here is a link to a free copy of the LA Times story:  http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-02/news/mn-31560_1_cajon-pass


Such is a reminder of the serious side of railroading and the unforgivable physics of the grade here if you do not have complete control of your train for whatever the reason.

Got Them Both

A slight detour before we continue with the photos from my California trip.

Last Tuesday February 9th two photographically attractive rail subjects were in the DFW area.  The first was the UP westbound ZMQLC out of Mesquite before sunrise with three new and clean GEC45AH’s and a SD70ACe for power.  The drawback was the train would be back lit until the train reached a few prime locations west of Fort Worth where the Baird Sub briefly curves to the south.  The second target was the NS 8103 Norfolk & Western heritage unit leading the westbound ASMAR auto parts boxcar train eastbound through Dallas around 10:00 am on its way to Arlington.  Until later in the afternoon the only place to get good lighting on this train would be in east Dallas where the UP runs north to south for 2.6 miles between MP Junction and SP Junction.

The dilemma was that if I drove to Dallas to catch the NS heritage unit I would have to miss the UP “Z” train with the new clean units leading or catch it in bad light somewhere between Fort Worth and Dallas.  On the other hand if I waited and caught the “Z” train west of Fort Worth I would not have time to drive to the well lighted area in Dallas to catch the NS heritage unit and I would have to take my chances for a decent shot at Garrett Yard in Arlington in the afternoon.  Add in the fact that I had an appointment just after lunch at BNSf headquarters to upload the results of my Cailfornia trip and you had the makings of an interesting day.

I decided to roll the dice and go for broke by trying to catch both moves in good light.    First I would go west of Weatherford to Preble where the Baird Sub curves southwest to get broadside light on the “Z” train; then go to BNSF headquarters for my appointment; and finally drive to Garrett Yard in Arlington to hopefully get an uncoupled clear shot of the N&W heritage unit in good late afternoon light.

I left home shortly after 8:00 am just as the westbound ZMQLC was approaching Tower 55.  Heading west on FM 1187 when I got within a half-mile of of Aledo I ran into stopped traffic due to everyone trying to drop their kids off for school.  I should have anticipated that, but even if the train passed me here I could still use I20 to beat it to Judd further west of Weatherford with even better side light and maybe a bit on the nose.  I had the time and it was only a few extra miles using cheaper fuel.  I made a U-turn and headed back to Iona to get out to I20 and decided I might as well stop and get a first shot of the “Z” train headed west.  Now, finally after all this rambling, a photo!


Still back lit even for side light, but acceptable.  Two new units up front means the third one and an SD70ACe would be on the rear.  I set up for the going away shot and was rewarded with the third new unit trailing and even facing east!


I talked to railfan friends in Dallas and learned the ASMAR was behind schedule and sitting in the siding at Marith waiting on Amtrak to pass before making a setout at Mesquite.  This meant I had chosen well by going west because if I had gone to Dallas first by the time the N&W heritage unit reached east Dallas the good 3/4 lighting would turn into nose light.  I drove west on I20 to Judd where I found a westbound stack train hanging out of the east end of the siding.  In a few minutes the dispatcher told the UP 8014 East to pull on into the siding as the “Z” train was out of Brazos coming up behind fast.  I was ready when the UP 2651 West appeared around the curve and scored these two views.



The lighting was as good as you could hope for without driving all the way to Sweetwater, so I happily took one more going away shot.


I still had 30 minutes before I needed to start back for my appointment in Fort Worth, so I decided to jump ahead to Gordon and catch the stack train that was in the hole here at Judd.  The light for a westbound was still back lit in Gordon, but I found a composition I liked including local history and geography.


I had already picked a nearby scene for a better lit view of the DPU’s.


I drove back to Fort Worth where I had a quick lunch and kept my appointment at BNSF headquarters.  I finished up there at 2:00 pm and as I was getting in my Explorer I heard from my railfan friends the ASMAR had fallen down even more and at that moment was in downtown Dallas as they waited on the west bank of the Trinity River.  This was great news for me as I now had an opportunity to catch the train before it entered Garrett Yard and get an uncluttered shot of the heritage lead unit.  I treated myself to a 75 mph run on the I820 eastbound express lane to Highway 360 and then south to old Highway 180 where I started to parallel the UP Dallas Sub eastbound from Arlington towards Grand Prairie.


I knew I had only a few minutes to spare so I found a good location just west of where Highway 180 passes over the George Bush Turnpike and got ready.  Less than five minutes later the train came into view and I nailed two acceptable photos as it rolled by at around 30 mph.



At the last crossing before Garrett Yard there was a railfan contingent waiting and I took a telephoto view of the nose.


The train was told by the Garrett Yard MYO to pull into track 4 in the yard and tie it down.  I had the shots I wanted but decided to try for one more sequence regardless.  As I parked at the yard office three GenSets under radio control pulled out with a cut of cars.


The MYO was an acquaintance of mine, and he modified the crew’s instructions to have them go ahead and pull the locomotives up to the marker at the west end of track 4 so the NS 8103 would be visible.  There was a bit of graffiti on a box car behind the heritage unit, but I did not mind.



Now the day was over for me and I was glad the choices I had made combined with fate had worked out to my advantage!

Rail Gang at Summit Day One

Starting the morning of Tuesday January 26th I worked for BNSF with a two-man film crew to cover two days of operations by a welded rail gang at Summit, California at the top of Cajon Pass followed by one day of documenting intermodal and automobile trains passing through the area.  The day began with breakfast at IHOP at 4:45 am PST, then meeting with an engineering manager in the hotel lobby at 5:30 am so we could follow him up the pass to the job site.

The drive to the job site took around 35 minutes, and even in darkness you could tell we were climbing all the time to an elevation roughly 3000 feet higher than San Bernardino.  The morning job briefing was scheduled for 6:30 am at the “Mountain Man” spur at Summit so were there in plenty of time to set up our equipment to record it.  The goal of the work for the day done by a roughly 40 man gang was to change out several 1600-foot strings of worn out curve rail.  All aspects of the work to be done and how to do it safely were discussed by the group before mandatory stretching exercises.  Our goal was to take stills and video illustrating the work and to give visual representation of the adherence to safety rules.

I wish it were possible for me to share all the photos here, but the majority of them are the property of the BNSF Railway.  The photos I can share are of trains led by units that are not in the current “swoosh” logo paint scheme, UP trains passing through on trackage rights, and scenic photos of the area.  With that in mind here is a view looking east of a westbound UP train passing the gang.  All work on Main 3 has stopped while the UP 8911 West rolls by on Main 2 making the transition from power to dynamic brakes as the train starts down the west slope of Cajon Pass.


You can see the old rail laying on the right while a crane pulls the new rail into place on the special plastic pads on top of concrete ties.  In the next photo I am looking west down the hill while the gang continues to work on Main 3 on the left.  The Form B foreman has given us permission to occupy Main 2 in the middle while an eastbound BNSF intermodal train roars up the grade on Main 1 to my right.


Even though we have permission to stand here until the Foreman needs Main 2 to run a train and lookouts are in place, it still feels strange and I keep looking over my shoulder.  Snow covered Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains can be seen above the train.  In the third and fourth photos I am about 100 yards further west down the grade standing on the outside of the curve next to Main 3.  While I am photographing each machine in the gang as it performs its specific task another westbound UP train on Main 2 where I was standing earlier starts the 25-mile, 3000-foot drop down to San Bernardino.


A few minutes later a BNSF train follows suit.  Notice that both trains have ample head end power and take my word that both have single DPU’s on the rear.  A few trains even had mid-train DPU’s.  Every precaution is taken to make sure there are no more run away trains on Cajon Pass.


The day ended in time to get back to the hotel and have a good dinner and rest before starting the second day of the assignment at Summit.

Rancho Cucamonga

On Monday January 25th I flew Southwest to Ontario, California to spend three days photographing for the BNSF on Cajon Pass starting early Tuesday morning.  I would be working with a two person film crew and we would be based out of San Bernardino.  My flight landed at the nearby Ontario International Airport around 4:00 pm PST and I signed for rental Dodge pickup with high clearance.

I decided to try for a few train photos before meeting my two co-workers at the hotel for dinner.  I had done my homework and knew the only nearby spot I could reach before sunset would be the Metrolink commuter rail station at Rancho Cucamonga.  Cucamonga is a derivative of a native-american word for a “sandy place” and Rancho comes from the days of Spanish rule in the area.

I pulled into the parking lot just as a westbound train for Los Angeles was stopping at the platform just before 5:00 pm.  I had just enough time to hold my camera over the top of the chain link fence at the corner of the lot as F59PH #865 roared by shoving five cars towards Los Angeles.


The next train was a westbound towards San Bernardino that arrived twenty minutes later right at sunset with another F59PH leading.


Here is a view showing the station and the cab car bringing up the rear of the eastbound train.  The San Gabriel Mountains west of San Bernardino loom in the background wearing a light dusting of snow.


The next train would be another eastbound out of Los Angeles in twenty minutes so I walked through the tunnel to the other platform for a different view.  The official Rancho Cucamonga station sign fronted a large open space in the middle of a wye off of the old AT&SF passenger main between Los Angeles and San Bernardino, and I assume that BNSF offers local freight service here.


As the light continued to fade I dropped back to ISO 6400 with 1/60 of a second at f5.6 and composed my photo to include a signature palm tree as the eastbound slowed to a stop with a newer F59PHI leading.


This train had a larger number of commuters who moved away from me down the platform to the tunnel on the way to the parking lot.


As the station clock shows it was now 5:48 pm, so I packed it in and headed to the hotel to make plans with the video team for the next three days of photographing a welded rail replacement gang at work and various intermodal trains.

Making the Most of a Cloudy Day

The majority of Tuesday January 19th was an overcast day in southern Oklahoma and north Texas.  This was less than desirable news as the Norfolk Southern’s Southern Railway heritage engine was leading a southbound loaded 114 car grain train down the BNSF’s ex-ATSF Red Rock Sub heading to Houston.  This was a rare enough occurrence that I decided to give chase regardless, and after an invisible sunrise friend Troy Minnick and I were northbound on I35 approaching the Texas and Oklahoma border shortly before 11:00am.  Friend Dwane Stevens of Ardmore had been following the train south from there and reported it was waiting for Amtrak 821 to catch up before taking the siding at Marietta and cutting the town in half.  When Dwane called back to say 821 had overtaken the grain train, Troy and I exited off of I35 onto old US Highway 77 and cut over to the grade crossing on Lake Gladney Road a mile or two south of Thackerville.  Within a few minutes we caught Amtrak 187 passing through the wide load detector that protects the Red River Bridge just ahead.

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Dwane called again to say the NS 8099 South was out of the siding at Marietta, so Troy and I moved to the north switch at Thackerville where we got our first shots a few minutes later as the train once again took the siding; this time to meet the northbound Z-ALTWSP that was at Valley View for Amtrak 821.  We had already seen a loaded tie train train in the siding at Gainesville so this was as far as the grain train could advance.

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Both sides of the NS 8099 were dirty and in pretty rough shape with the numbers hard to read, so I decided to concentrate on the nose as much as possible for the rest of the day.  With that in mind I took this view as the train pulled down the siding and stopped short of the Cemetery Road crossing.

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The conductor dismounted and the three of us talked railroading until it was time for them to pull all the way into the clear so the Z-ALTWSP would have a green signal when it arrived.  Troy and I relocated to the south end of the siding to record the meet just before Z-ALTWSP came blasting up hill out of the Red River bottoms.

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The dispatcher told the grain train they would have a clear shot to Alliance Yard for a crew change and then lined them out of the siding.

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We skipped on past Gainesville and waited for the NS 8099 to catch up just north of Valley View.  The train was running close to 60 mph at this point.

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We used I35 to our advantage to get ahead again and chose to stop next at South Wye.


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Look to the right of the NS 8099 in the first photo and you can catch a glimpse of the KCS job that brought UPS cars from Wylie to add to the Z-ALTWSP we saw earlier.  The two GP40’s were waiting to get inbound UPS trailers from the Z-WSPALT that was also southbound about 40 miles behind us.  We overtook the train again and then north of Ponder I spotted a flashing yellow signal that probably meant a meet ahead.  Troy and I stopped for this scene from a small bluff beside FM 156 that we had used before.

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Back in the vehicle we heard the detector south of Ponder give a reading of 12 axles.  The dispatcher had promised them a straight shot to Alliance but now I was guessing they were going to meet the almost daily “GE Job” testing new locomotives from the plant at Haslet.  We pulled over in downtown Ponder and my guess was confirmed as two BNSF ES44C4’s were pulling through the siding.

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The going away shot was the keeper and my personal favorite from the day.

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For our next location we chose to catch the train passing the north end of the Alliance Yard lead at Lambert.

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The going away photo shows the train to be in a 2 x 2 configuration but the BNSF 5796 broke down along the way south and the BNSF 4163 was added at Arkansas City, KS.

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Troy and I parted company here.  The crew change was to take place at CP Beth in Alliance Yard so I opted to drive on to the diamonds at Saginaw and meet friend David Steckler and others waiting there.  The crew change went smoothly and we did not have to wait for very long before the NS 8099 and its new crew rolled by on the way to Temple.

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I took a chance and took loop 820 to I35 South in an attempt to beat the train to Tower 55 for one last photo.  Traffic was light for once and I made it with a minute to spare as the train took a green signal and quickly accelerated across the diamonds and past the silent tower.

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There were several new hoppers in the train and I managed to catch one of them.

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One hundred and fourteen loads later the one working and one off-line DPU pushing the 15,849 ton train rolled by South Tower 55.

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The sun was starting to come out south of Fort Worth and I could tell if I elected to jump ahead to Joshua and/or Cleburne I would be able to get that elusive full sun photo.  On the other hand while the NS 8099 was mechanically sound, it needed a wash job and some paint and I had other important tasks to accomplish before the end of the day.  Whether or not I was successful with these cloudy day photos I leave up to the reader’s jury!