Friday, October 21, 2016

Provo's Ubiquitous Local Trains

 The LUL44R returning to the Provo Yard after a day of switching the Provo Industrial Lead on April 1, 2016. On this day it was led by an ex-Seaboard, ex-Southern Pacific GP40M-2.

Mainline operations are fascinating. They're big, loud, fast, and above all, exciting. I would estimate that around 80% of railroad photographs are of mainline hotshot trains, and understandably so, but often the local trains are where the true interest can be found.

Locals, on the other hand, are slow, small, and often run through isolated areas. However, they often run on a more reliable schedule than mainline operations do. While it is hard to say when a freight train will be on the Sharp Subdivision, the two local trains that ply those rails run like clockwork, leaving at the same time each day and returning at a reliably consistent hour. Through summer 2016 I generally had weekday mornings off, so around 8:30 am I was usually at Kuhni's on the south end of the Provo Yard to follow the LUL57 which left at that time. My vehicle probably became very familiar to the crews.

The LUL57 approaches the Provo Yard on June 1, 2016. After passing through the derail, the train will meet the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Red Train, which is waiting to take its place on the Sharp Sub to head to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Provo has three main locals that originate in its yard. Two of them, the LUL57 and LUL58, run down the Sharp Sub, the 57 usually terminating at the grain elevator at Sharp and the 58 terminating at the Intermountain Power Project plant southwest of Lynndyl, where the Sharp and Lynndyl subdivisions meet. The third, the LUL41, runs down the former D&RGW Tintic Branch to Spanish Fork, then returns to switch the Provo Industrial Lead to the North. All three of these trains generally use rebuilt SD40Ns, except when accidents occur or tonnage is expected to be high, in which case SD70Ms are added. This was not always the case; the SD40N rebuilding program (starting with older SD40-2s) only began in 2011 and it has only been in the past two years that they have become common as switching and local power in Utah. Before then, SD60Ms and SD70Ms were operated in tandem, at least on the 57 and 58 which travel much further than the 41, and at one point D&RGW SD40T-2 "tunnel motor" number 5342 was assigned to the 57 in 2001.

Here, the LUL58 with 27 cars straggles into a very wet Provo at noon on September 24, 2016. The LUL57 had derailed the previous day at 9:00 am at Longview Fiber in Spanish Fork and didn't get back on the road until 1:00 am on the 24th, delaying the arrival of this train.
The LUL58 leaves in the afternoon, usually between 3:30 and 5:00. Here, the two trains on the left are waiting their turns to head out on the Sharp Sub, while the three light locomotives will run down the yard lead to the Intermountain Power car repair facility to pick up its train there. The LUL58 is the train on the far left with two SD40Ns and one SD70M.

An exception to this pattern occurred on July 26 2016 when the LUL41 split a switch on the Provo Industrial Lead, so until the SD40N usually assigned to the train could be rerailed, it ran with an ex-Missouri Pacific GP38-2. It is interesting to note that six-axle locomotives never ran on the Tintic Branch when it was owned by the D&RGW; after testing an SD7 in 1976, the Grande decided that the rigid trucks were just too long to traverse the branch. Now that the branch as been severely truncated, the little remaining track seems to handle it.

The LUL57 runs daily on weekdays, leaving at 8:30 am and depending on how many trains it meets on the Sharp Sub will arrive in Lynndyl around noon. This is the general service train, switching out all of the industries between Provo and Lynndyl. The 58 departs in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, arriving in Lynndyl sometime around midnight. This train services the IPP plant and Magnum facility (which are next to each other), dropping off empty covered hoppers and picking up filled ones full of fly ash (a byproduct of burning coal) from IPP and delivering tank cars of Liquid Natural Gas to Magnum. If either industry needs service on an off day another train will be dispatched under the symbols LUE88X or LUL58X. The LUL41 switches the Tintic Branch on Tuesdays and Thursdays; any other day it operates only on the Provo Industrial Lead.

Spanish Fork's UP Harriman Standard depot is sadly dilapidated, but the tracks that pass in front of it are well-used. Here the LUL57 speeds by on its way south. On this day, the normally predictable power was interrupted by the addition of an AC4400CW and an AC45CCTE.
After escaping the yard limit in Provo, the 57 books it from one industry to another. Unless it stops to switch somewhere, it's hard to keep up with it on the rural roads.

It is interesting to observe the differences between the commodities carried by these trains. The 41 is guaranteed to have bulkhead flats full of lumber on the days it runs on the Tintic Branch; the 57 generally consists of TTX boxcars and covered hoppers badly rusted by salt; and the 58 is generally almost a unit train consisting exclusively of two-bay fly ash hoppers and tank cars of liquid natural gas.

For more information about these locals, Spencer Peterson has compiled everything you could possibly need to know about them on his website at, including radio frequencies, locations, and a map.

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