Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year's Wonder

Checking the traffic on the OMR mailing list on a lazy New Year's morning yesterday revealed chaos along the route of Amtrak's Empire Builder. Seems that for some reason the #7 westbound had been stopped, with plans for it to return to Chicago. The interesting part was how Amtrak decided to accomplish this.

The day's #8 (eastbound), which was already running late, was tasked to couple onto the rear of #7 and continue east. This decision led to the creation of a "monster" Amtrak train. Three Genesis units were leading and providing the power, followed by a baggage car, 20 Superliners, another baggage car, and three more Genesis units from the annulled #7.

A thoughtful passenger sprang into action, reporting these events to the list in real time. I was lucky enough to get about an hour's advance notice. Mrs. L4T kindly fortified me with a late breakfast and sent me out into the storm with the assignment of getting some good pictures. I was happy to try and oblige.

As soon as I left home, I heard the dispatcher talking to Amtrak 122, giving them a warrant from Gregory to St. Cloud. I had a flash of fear that they were already by me, but it seemed impossible so I continued uptown. The question was where to set up and try a shot? I contemplated trying as they passed by the depot. The faint indications of the defect detector at MP 174 indicated the train was getting close to Wadena. Then the radio came to life again, and Amtrak told the dispatcher they would be stopped for 10 minutes or so in Staples for a crew change. Hearing that the decision was made-Staples. Off I went, on an ice covered Highway 10.

The Builder was clearing his Richards Spur-Wadena warrant before I even reached Verndale. Given the road conditions getting to Staples in time to catch the train seemed iffy, so I pulled over to catch him as he passed east of Verndale. The wait was about one minute.

I realized at this point that shooting the train at track speed with fresh snow might be fun, but it wouldn't reveal what I was looking for. Again, it was off to Staples with a renewed fervor.

The conductor called out the approach signal at Dower Lake, along with a speed- 75 mph. Man, I hope I make it!

Finally, I spotted the tail end of the train. By the time I reached the west end of the Staples yard we were neck and neck and the train was slowing for the depot. Swinging into the west entrance of the Amtrak parking lot allowed the chance to shoot the entire train as it approached on Main 1.

Then it was off to the 6th St crossing, for a shot as the head end changed crews. The train was so long, this was the first of three stops they had to make at the Staples depot.

After pulling ahead, the train stopped again, spotting #8's coaches at the platform. The lead unit is just short of the 6th St. crossing in this view. The curve in Main 1 as it approaches the depot hide the tail end of this train. By my count, two Superliners, a baggage car and three Genesis units are tucked in behind the last visible car in this view.

The radio was busy with chatter almost the entire stop, anything from coordinating when to change channels (Staples West is on a different channel than Staples East), whether the rear units needed a qualified engineer on board, how the brakes should be set up ("direct" vs. "gradual" release, apparently due to train length), how far to pull ahead for the next spot, etc.

I got a final set of shots as the train spanned both crossings. I believe they were offloading the Staples passengers from #7 in this view. The word on the web is that all the #7 passengers were being dropped at the station where they boarded, which probably meant that there were multiple stops at every station due to the length of the train.

So that's the story of what is probably the most unusual railroad occurence I've ever had the opportunity to photograph. I can't thank Craig, the passenger on the train who was providing location information, enough. Without his heads-up, this train would have passed through the area without my even realizing it.

With a start to 2011 like this, who knows what else the year holds? This Amtrak monster train will be hard to top, but yesterday morning it never seemed possible that something like this would pass through Wadena. Keep looking!

1 comment:

Mike said...

Great post, Jim! That is truly a one of a kind catch.