Posts Tagged ‘BNSF motive power’

Curses, Foiled Again

October 7, 2021

I was sitting in Waterloo, Indiana, next to the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern when I heard talk on the radio about a train 880.

The 880 is a loaded Powder River coal train handed over to NS in Chicago by BNSF at Cicero Yard and it usually has BNSF motive power.

It is destined for a Detroit Edison power plant in the Monroe/Trenton, Michigan, area.

Although it was late morning, the lighting remained favorable for an eastbound. I planned to get the lead unit of the 880 passing a former freight station.

As soon as I heard the defect detector go off near milepost 370 I started getting into position because the train was less than three miles away.

I was standing in a city parking lot next to the former New York Central passenger station, which also serves as an Amtrak waiting room although the boarding platform is a block west.

The tracks here are slightly elevated from the level of the parking lot.

I heard a locomotive horn and figured that to be the 880 blowing for a crossing on the west side of town.

Just as the orange nose of the lead BNSF unit came into sight on Track 2, out of nowhere came a westbound manifest freight on Track 1, which blocked the shot I planned to get of the 880. I was able to get a glimpse of the 800 but that was it.

To be honest, what I said was stronger than the favorite saying of cartoon character Oil Can Harry of Mighty Mouse fame whenever something didn’t go his way.

It turned out the horn I heard was that of the westbound for a crossing about a block to the east. I had heard another train making scratchy calls on the radio, but it didn’t seem that close. Alas, it was closer than I thought.

What else can I say? Things like this happen when you’re trackside.

Riding Amtrak Still an Enjoyable Experience

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

A pair of IC SD70s and a Grand Trunk geep pass the under construction Effingham Amtrak boarding area.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia.
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for Amtrak’s northbound Illini passes the former IC passenger station at it backs down to the Amtrak depot in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

Some Orange in Warwick

August 10, 2021

BNSF C44-9W No. 5842 leads an is eastbound in Warwick (Clinton) out of the yard on May 8, 2004. The image was made with a 3 megapixel digital camera.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Last Stand for Solid Bessemer Power

June 8, 2021

Our June 18, 2014 outing had a game plan in place. Craig Sanders and I set out to start with eastbound Amtrak No. 48 and then focus on the Bessemer & Lake Erie knowing that solid Bessemer motive power was nearing the end.

We were fortunate with our catches on this day, and our predictions were correct because the following year the majority of Bessemer motive power was transferred elsewhere on the Canadian National system.

We began early in Conneaut to set up for the Lake Shore Limited if it was on time which would be about 6:50 a.m. Soon we found out it was running close to three hours behind schedule.

We saw a CSX and a Norfolk Southern train and then put Plan B into place.

We kept a sharp ear on the scanner for the Bessemer since that was our main objective, but worked our way to Lake City, Pennsylvania, knowing we could get back to intercept the Bessemer once we heard radio chatter on its frequency.

At Lake City we photographed five trains on CSX, including Amtrak. Once we heard the Bessemer squawking we worked our way to intercept a train coming out of the Conneaut harbor.

The top image is an eastbound CSX stack train led by BNSF motive power at 10:17 a.m. in Lake City.

Next up is the Lake Shore Limited at 11:02 a.m. Note that it still had Heritage Fleet baggage cars.

Our first shot of the Bessemer after its Conneaut departure was at Pond Road in Pennsylvania at 11:55 a.m. The same train is seen at 12:38 p.m. passing the site of the location of the B&LE passenger station in Albion, Pennsylvania. I’ll continue describing our good fortune in Part 2.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Nice Way to Start the Day

April 29, 2021

We had driven up Interstate 69 to Waterloo, Indiana, which would be our first stop during a day-long railfan outing.

Scarcely had we arrived when the detector west of town on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern went off on Track 2, likely indicating an eastbound was coming.

Through my telephoto lens I could tell the lead unit was not NS black and for a moment I thought that, maybe, it was a heritage unit.

It tuned out to be a BNSF pumpkin with a Southern Belle of Kansas City Southern trailing. That’s not a bad catch although I wished the order of the units had been reversed.

It was train 880, which had come into Chicago from the Power River Basin of Wyoming and been turned over to an NS crew at Cicero, Illinois. The train was bound for Trenton, Michigan.

In the view above, it is splitting the westbound home signals of CP 367 and passing the former New York Central passenger station, which is now owned by the city and contains a waiting room for Amtrak passengers.

While Waiting for Something Else

March 14, 2021

It is an unexpected but pleasant surprise that while waiting for one train you sometimes get the opportunity to photograph another train that also has something attractive in the consist.

That happened on Saturday to Ed Ribinskas about noon on Saturday as he waited in Perry for an intermodal train with a special Canadian Pacific locomotive.

But first came this eastbound grain train with a pair of BNSF units. It never hurts when railfanning to have the railfan gods smile on you.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Coal Train in Boughtonville

January 3, 2021

There had been a winter storm a couple of days earlier that left some snow along the CSX Willard Terminal Subdivision between Greenwich and Willard.

I met up with Roger Durfee and Peter Bowler and we made a foray out to CSX territory.

It was the last winter in which I would be making photographs with slide film and it was a cold but sunny day.

Traffic on CSX was heavy on this day, which was the norm then. Sure, there are still a lot of trains to be found on this line today but not as many as there was back in January 2011.

We’ve heard of an eastbound coal train coming so we’ve set up in Boughtonville, a hamlet located not far from Willard.

On the point is a former Burlington Northern SD70MAC still wearing its Grinstein green and cream with Alizarin red striping. The BN logo has been erased from the nose and a BNSF reporting mark affixed below the cab windows. A standard BNSF “pumpkin” is trailing.

The train is at the crossovers but is making a straight move on No. 1 track.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Nice Catch

December 6, 2020

I ventured out to the Frankfort District of Norfolk Southern on Friday wanting to check out the street running in Elwood, Indiana, and the former passenger station in Tipton.

I only caught one moving train, but what a catch it was. This westbound auto rack train shown in Hobbs, Indiana, had a Canadian Pacific leader and a BNSF trailing unit.

It was delayed for a while east of town after a semi got stuck on a steep approach crossing, its load of large coiled tubing balancing over the tracks.

The truck was pulled off the crossing by a tow truck and the auto rack train was soon on its way.

The Frankfort District, was a former Nickel Plate Road line between Sandusky, Ohio, and Peoria, Illinois. Before the NKP took it over, it was part of the Lake Erie & Western.

BNSF Unveils 25th Anniversary Locomotive

August 14, 2020

BNSF will celebrate its 25th anniversary on 10 locomotives but its first such unit will not feature a retro livery.

The Class 1 carrier on its Facebook page showed off GE ES44AC No. 5828 with an anniversary label on its nose and the herald of its predecessor railroads on its flanks.

That locomotive was expected to begin revenue service on Aug. 14.

BNSF was formed on Dec. 31, 1996, by the merger of Burlington Northern and the Santa Fe.

Some Orange in Warwick

May 27, 2020

BNSF motive power is not necessarily a rare sight in Northeast Ohio but it’s still pleasant to see it when you find it.

Here are a couple of images of a westbound CSX train passing through Warwick on March 1 being pulled by two BNSF pumpkins.

Photographs by Robert Farkas