Friday, November 25, 2016

Milfordfest 2016, part 1 (Filming for a documentary)

Note: This is part one of two of a trip report prepared by Josh Bernhard and Jacob Lyman. In this post we will cover the trip from Josh's perspective.

As part of the Trackside: The Story of Railroad Photographers documentary project that I and the other DEP writers are directing, I contacted some members of the Utah Rail Enthusiasts group to see if they would be willing to be filmed during an outing. They went a step further than expected and arranged a group trip to Milford, a crew change point and junction of Union Pacific's Lynndyl and Caliente subdivisions. This was an extension of a tradition of social outings arranged by Utah Rail Enthusiasts members; previously, there have been trips to Echo Canyon (Echofest), to chase the Cache Valley Local (Loganrail), and even to tour the Intermountain Power Project power plant near Delta. Milford was chosen this time because of easy access to Utah Valley (comparatively; it's more than a two hour drive) and because it is largely ignored by photographers because of its isolation. Jacob will explain more about the history of the town and subidivision in his post, so look for that.

A highrailer in Leamington Canyon on the Sharp Sub, the first activity of the day.
The day began meeting Matt Paulson and Spencer Peterson in Santaquin in the wee hours of the morning, a good hour before sunrise. Spencer is the admin of, which by far is one of the best railfan resources available. The light was peeking over the mountains by the time we reached Leamington on the Sharp Subdivision, and a bit further we pulled into Lynndyl where the Sharp and Lynndyl subs join to meat Sean Anderberg and Chaice Moyes who came down from Spanish Fork. After reviewing the scheduled trains, we headed south to miss two eastbound intermodals. Some confusion ensued when we found a backup of trains just east of Murdock Siding with two ballast trains, one headed east and the other west, sitting in the hole. After running back and forth trying to find unit numbers to plot their routes, we eventually settled with a good crossing to watch trains from.

Some of the images in this post, such as this one, are stills from the footage that will be used in Trackside: The Story of Railroad Photographers. This is the MSCWC-19, originating in Salt Lake City and bound for West Colton, California.

 This was a surprise - somehow Matt's tracker didn't list this train, a unit Herzog ballast train headed from California. The Lynndyl sub is home to a quarry at Murdock where Herzog obtains most of the ballast used on railroads in the Western U.S.
Jacob had left Tooele much earlier than us and thus beat us to Milford, catching all the trains we missed and advising us of the catch of the day: a Norfolk Southern standard cab locomotive on a grain train at the Circle 4 Farms elevator. We don't get many NS locomotives this far west, so to catch not only a classic visitor from the East but also a rare locomotive unique to that railroad and still sporting its standard cab (a rare sight on mainline trains these days) was a real treat.

The power from the MSCWC-19 was pulled from the train, the SD40Ns removed and a C45AH  added before continuing to the Caliente Subdivision. The Lynndyl Sub is relatively flat, but the route between Milford and Las Vegas has some intense grades that warrant the extra locomotive.

Milford has plenty of the subtle quirks that characterize small desert towns. From the caboose in the park to the yellow crossbucks (not white!), it was an interesting place to see. In regards to the crossbucks, we joked that Union Pacific wasn't satisfied with painting Southern Pacific locomotives yellow so it had to expand to crossing signs. Then there is the grain elevator, by far the biggest structure for miles, and home to a cute little switcher owned by Circle 4 Farms, a hog producer just outside of town.

 Here it is: the standard-cab! The Norfolk Southern was the only railroad in the world to purchase the C40-9 from GE, which makes this a special catch this far west. This was the head-end power for the GSMFPR-19, a grain shuttle between Milford and Pratt, Kansas.
Milford's park caboose is accompanied by a semaphore signal. Unlike the similar caboose that UP donated to Eureka, the people of Milford actually takes care of this one and use it as a welcome center for what few tourists pass through. When we arrived an elderly couple was carefully decorating it for Christmas.
Unfortunately I had an appointment that evening in Salt Lake to film Gary Peterson's HO scale Salt Lake Southern model railroad, so I had to break from the group early, and in doing so I missed a massive five-way meet as trains backed up in Lynndyl between the Lynndyl and Sharp subdivisions, which I found out about later in the evening as Spencer began posting images to his UCrail facebook page.

Back to the whole reason why we made this trip, Trackside is moving along nicely. In December we will begin filming interviews, and hopefully get to tour some rail-served industries, to wrap up shooting for Trackside and begin post-production. Keep a lookout for further updates!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Short, fast freight - or long, stalled and late?

At noon on September 2 2016, the Provo, Utah to North Yard, Colorado MRONY, consisting of five locomotives and 115 cars, stalled on the grade at Castilla in Spanish Fork Canyon in Utah. Since the ex-D&RGW main line from Provo to Denver is paramount to the transport of coal to electrical power plants in Utah and California, this was a serious block to traffic. SD70ACe number 8838 was sent out as a helper unit, but one locomotive did nothing to restart the train on its way east, so three more units had to be called from Helper, Utah, to be added mid-train; they didn’t arrive until 7:00 pm, causing a more than seven-hour delay in traffic as the 8838 switched out the train on the main to splice in the three helpers.

This event is not uncommon in the mountain regions of the Union Pacific system. While some may claim that the American economy is on the rise since the 2008 housing market collapse, the condition of the transportation industry says otherwise, and Union Pacific seems to be in some dire straits considering their recent policy of running longer trains with less power in a desperate attempt to cut down on crews and locomotives. In Utah, the problem has manifested itself most on the old Rio Grande routes, which reflecting the Grande’s motto of “Through the Rockies, not around them!” are reasonably steep in order to ascend Soldier Summit in the heart of the Wasatch Range. The Rio Grande had no problem with this landscape, operating under the policy of short, fast freight, running more trains with less cars at a quicker speed over the summit. BNSF, which operates trackage rights on this route, also has no problem (although some BNSF employees may say otherwise). Union Pacific, on the other hand, is struggling.

As another extreme example of the impracticality of this policy elsewhere on the system, on August 3 a grain train from Salt Lake stalled on the grade just west of the Nevada border. A single helper locomotive (ES44AC number 8247) was dispatched from Salt Lake to shove it uphill. Since Distributed Power Units are rarely manned, the extra helper unit cost the UP a crew which could have been saved by simply tacking on the DPU before heading out. And if that wasn’t enough, another westbound train had to wait for the light engine to clear the Shaffter subdivision before proceeding, causing further delay and expense as commodities sat idle both on the stalled train and the manifest in the hole.

August 3, 2016; on the Shaffter Subdivision near Aragonite. A lone helper is on the move to help out a grain train stalled on the grades west from here. I found it near Lake Point, Utah; and chased it out here. Discussions over Facebook confirmed that this was an emergency helper move.(Jacob Lyman photo and description)

A former engineer on the Union Pacific remarked that he observes that the same problem is happening in the Blue Mountains of Oregon and explained that “train delay is directly attributable to train length.” From his perspective as a locomotive operator he added that extra-long trains pose several serious problems: few sidings have the capacity to hold these trains, meaning that meets are impossible and traffic must be restricted to one direction for extended periods of time until they clear the main line; in addition, if a train were to fall into Undesired Emergency (UDE), the crew is obligated to walk the entire length to identify the problem. In his words, “it’s a damned long way for one employee to walk.”

This train didn't stall, but it almost did - by the time it neared Wahsatch Summit it was moving at barely faster than the photographer could walk. While this made it easy to chase the train, it also meant waiting at this location for over an hour as it traveled less than 25 miles in that time. The problem? Three locomotives with over 100 cars aren't enough to maintain a steady speed even on the Echo Canyon's 1.14 percent grade.
Operating crews will use this as an example of the disconnect that exists between the men on the ground and the men in the office, particularly dispatchers. A revealing anecdote from one engineer illustrates this: at one point, an engineman complained that his train had more tonnage than his locomotives could handle. The dispatcher replied “The book says they are rated for (x) amount of tons,” to which the engineer shot back, “Yes, but these engines haven’t learned to read yet!”
The issue, and perhaps one of the contributing factors to UP’s policy, is that every locomotive is rated to pull a certain number of tons, but only at 100% capacity. That may be relevant on level track during the testing phase, but on the road is impossible. In real life, locomotives operate at far below their full capacity due to age, abuse, and environmental factors (wet rail, steep grades, sharp curves, etc.). So while dispatchers go by the manufacturer’s ratings, an operating crew knows to cut an estimated 25-50% from the written statistics in order to play it safe on a run. This concept, however, is impossible for an economist to understand as they try to cut expenses and maximize revenues on paper.

BNSF seems to have copied the Rio Grande's strategy of short, fast freight, such as this one speeding upgrade to the Thistle Tunnels in August 2016. This train has three lead units and one DPU for 22 cars, which allows it to maintain a steady speed going uphill; a typical Union Pacific freight train on this route will have the same number of locomotives for over 50 cars and struggles on this same 2% grade.
In some cases, crews have become creative to get around the demand for long trains with less power. Steve Creer, a now-retired engineer and conductor who started with the D&RGW and worked through the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific mergers, was called to Elko to run a train measuring at 8,950 feet. Trains running east of Elko cannot exceed 9,000 feet due to the length of passing sidings on that stretch. However, the Manager of Yard Operations approached and informed him that he was required to pick up ten cars, which surpassed the limit by almost 450 feet. Mr. Creer protested, knowing that he was scheduled to meet two 12,000 foot westbound trains; the manager shrugged him off. Even after the dispatcher in Omaha confirmed that the train could not exceed 9,000 feet under any circumstances the Elko managers insisted that the ten cars be added.

“A conductor is an overpaid liar because he has the educated pencil,” Creer remarked. He opened up the computer system and marked that he had picked up the cars without actually doing so, then forced the MYO to enter the train as having departed Elko, again without actually doing so. Steve then returned to his own computer and set the ten cars out at a short maintenance siding a mile from town, told the MYO to put the cars on the next short train (for real that time), loaded up his own train, and headed for Ogden. Management was happy, the operating crew was happy, and nobody noticed that the cars had been recorded as added, moved, and set out in the impossibly short time of less than five minutes. Without this sort of trickery, incomprehensible delay would have been the result.

September 10, 2016; Schon Norris, James Belmont, and I were with each other railfanning the area south of North Yard in Salt Lake City, when two "Monster Trains" arrived in opposite directions simultaneously, the MWCNP, and the MNPWC (shown in the picture). The eastbound MWCNP barely fit the yard, while the westbound MNPWC was so large the lead locomotives and freight cars where outside the southern yard portal, where they blocked several grade crossings for an extended period of time. To complicate matters worse, these two trains switch and drop off loads in the yard, meaning the crews had to work a tricky balancing act  between the two monsters to get their jobs done.

However the greatest issue of these monster trains soon became apparent as the minutes passed. The MNPWC blocked off the grade crossings in the area, causing frustration for the commuters and pedestrians in the area. To the shock of Schon, James, and I; many pedestrians began to blatantly trespass, crossing over the couplings on many of the cars on the MNPWC. We witnessed a man with a bike crossing over the coupler, and shortly there after we also saw a family with several children crossing over. At this time the MNPWC was making switching moves to try and drop off cars in the yard, and in some-cases these trespassers avoided being caught between cars on a moving train by a few seconds. Another danger was the active tracks surrounding this train, with two active Frontrunner commuter rail tracks on one side, and an open mainline to the other (with an approaching hot ZDVSC coming down on it). It was a very stressful thing for Schon, James, and I to watch; and it illustrated how the absurd length of these trains can frustrate pedestrians and inspire some awful stupidity. (Jacob Lyman photo and description)

It has been suggested that this is simply a remnant of Union Pacific’s bitter and emotional rivalry with the Denver & Rio Grande Western. One railroader remarked that “The Rio Grande was a chief competitor to the UP and they did what the UP couldn't do - ran a fast freight line on single track through the Rockies. Even though the heyday of this was 30+ years ago, I'm certain that sting still hurt some senior folk in Omaha many years later.” Assuming this idea is true, a jealous Union Pacific is trying to prove that they can do better than the Rio Grande. So far it seems that they aren’t.

Some hope that these stalled trains will be a learning experience for the Union Pacific. As mentioned, BNSF already has already figured out the ideal operating system, running 25-50 cars with the same number of locomotives that UP puts on a 50-150 car train. BNSF trains often arrive in Provo from Denver four to five hours earlier than initially scheduled, whereas UP trains on the same route will often be late by an equal amount. The idea is that UP managers will recognize the fallacy of their current paradigm and pull some of the hundreds of locomotives stored dead in Ogden and elsewhere to push their freight through more effectively. Only time will tell if they wise up.

DISCLAIMER: I do not represent Union Pacific, BNSF, or any other railroad company. This article is based on observation of true events and the judgement of people knowledgeable on the subject; I welcome any further insights into this phenomenon.

Spencer Peterson, who witnessed the stalled MRONY and photographed the process of the three helper locomotives being switched in to the train at Castilla.
Jacob Lyman, who photographed the light move to Wendover on August 3, and provided further insights into the event from discussions he had with railroad employees.
Steve Creer, a former D&RGW engineer from Provo, Utah, who worked a short time for the UP after the merger. He shared many of the laughable interactions between operating crews and dispatchers.
Matt Paulson, James Belmont, and others who provided commentary through the Rails Through the Wasatch, Utah Rail Enthusiasts and Fans of the Union Pacific Railroad Facebook groups. Some names, particularly those of current railroad employees, have been withheld due to privacy concerns.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Some Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful Utah Locomotives

One of the most intriguing aspects of railfanning in my opinion is the work done by industrial switchers. Many industries and shortlines use engines that have exchanged ownership several times, and have worked a long life. Compared to the high horse power units used on the mainline, these units might not seem like much. Their rarity makes them far more unique than the common mass produced locomtives plowing the rails of a Class 1 railroad. Utah has a few weird engine classes at work in industries, shortlines, and even at our tourist railroad in Heber. This is not a comprehensive list, but a small sample of a few of the oddballs that are out there. Some of these locomotives are so rare, you can't find models of them in any hobby shop! I've already talked about the unique high cab GP39-2 units used by Kennecott in this previous post.

Baldwin-Hamilton RS-4-TC. Locations: Heber Valley Railway; Heber, Utah. Peterson Industrial Depot; Tooele, Utah. Broken Arrow; Grantsville, Utah.

The RS-4-TC was a switch locomotive built for the military. Only 74 were produced, and most were kept in long term storage; in the event the U.S. military needed them to conduct railroad operations over hostile fronts. When it became clear that capturing enemy railroads was no longer a necessary tactic in the 20th century, these units finally began to earn their keep at military bases, until they were sold as surplus to the private sector. Despite being a relatively obscure locomotive class, five of these engines are currently in Utah. Four of them are based in the Tooele County. The fifth is in service on the Heber Valley  Railroad.

PID 1250 came to Tooele along with its sister locomotive PID 1258. The two engines were previously located at the clean up site of the uranium tailings in Moab. The two were bought together, and brought up to Tooele. When PID 1250 arrived in Tooele, it had the nickname "Captain Jack" stenciled onto the side. Names such as that sure give these locomotives a more 'human' factor.

Although the current paint scheme omits the "Captain Jack" name, PID 1250 is still known among railfans by that name. Here we see "Captain Jack" switching some cars at the eastern borders of the industrial depot. 

Two RS-4-TC's are located on the opposite side of the Tooele Valley near Grantsville at the Broken Arrow salt processing facility. Numbered BCS 242, and BCS 243; I had the opportunity to take a cab ride in one of these engines nearly five years ago.

Heber Valley 4028, wears a dashing Rio Grande inspired paint scheme. The Heber Valley runs on what was once a DRGW branchline; so it is only fitting that at least some of their locomotives wear the Grande's paint. Despite being one of the smallest locomotives at Heber, it seems this engine has been nicknamed by the crew with the name "Big Boy." Surely an ironic name for such a small engine!

The RS-4-TC's were built small enough to run through the small tunnels and platforms of Britain, in the event a war in Europe demanded that the Americans needed to send additional locomotives to the UK. The height difference can be observed when 4028 is compared to some of the other locomotives at Heber, such as the GP unit in the background.

Of the five RS-4-TC units in Utah; PID 1258 has been the least fortunate. Like PID 1250, it came to Utah to work at the tailings clean up project in Moab. After its time there, it went with 1250 to Tooele to work at the Industrial Depot. PID 1258 had been given the name "Susan B. Anthony;" after the famed leader in the woman's suffrage movement. In October 2015, "Susan B." was involved in a major freight car collision which damaged several parts of the locomotive. Since then it has sat in storage at PID.

A close up inspection of the damages on "Susan B." (PID 1258) reveals just how bad the collision was. 

Republic RX500 Switcher. Location: McWayne Ductile; Provo, Utah.

The RX500 as of now, is still a rather rare locomotive class. However, unlike many of the other engines in this post, the RX500 is still in production; so it is possible these little critters might someday dominate industrial switching across the U.S. As of now, Utah only has one RX500, working at McWayne Ductile in Provo, Utah. With it's clean blue paint, and flame decals (yes I said that right, flame decals) this engine is quite the sight for railfans who go and visit it. 

Rather than try and explain what makes this engine unique, I'll let Republic Locomotive explain it themselves in this video they posted to YouTube. It will be interesting to see if this engine class becomes more common in the near future. 

 EMD MRS-1. Location: Heber Valley Railroad; Heber, Utah.

The MRS-1 locomotives were built for the military for the same reason the RS-4-TC locomotives were built. The military ordered the class from two different manufacturers, General Motor's EMD division, and ALCO. The EMD MRS-1 and ALCO MRS-1 have similar exteriors, but differ with internal components. Since they were built for possible use overseas, they were also built to fit the restricting clearance of places such as Britain.

One EMD MRS-1 (Heber 1813) has been preserved in Utah on the Heber Valley Railway. As of the time of this writing, 1813 is the line's primary road engine right now while Heber works on restoring their steam locomotives.

Labor Day 2016; the 1813 departs the Heber Yard with a long train on a Monday night special.

Labor Day 2015, the 1813 waiting at the head of a Monday night special at the station. 

A close up view of the builder's plate of the 1813. Only a handful of EMD style MRS-1 units were built. Most of the MRS-1 class was represented by ALCO's. Despite this, five of the EMD units survived into preservation.

Rebuilt EMD GP10. Location: Chevron Refinery; Salt Lake City, Utah.

RSSX 436 is one of the hardest to catch engines in Utah. Despite being based at a refinery just north of Salt Lake City, this engine hardly shows its face in public for long (as evidenced by more poor photo of it.) The GP10 unit was the result of rebuild programs done by both the Illinois Central Railroad and Conrail. RSSX 436 was built during the Illinois Central program, and would later work on the Iowa Interstate Railroad before coming to Utah. Getting to catch this engine up close is a very special opportunity!

 GE B36-7. Location:  Peterson Industrial Depot; Tooele, Utah.

The B36-7 is one of GE's lesser known locomotive types. Popular on many eastern railroads such as Conrail, and the Seaboard System; only a handful of these units made it to western railroads; 16 to the Santa Fe, and 20 to the Southern Pacific and it's St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt) subsidiary. PID 3611 started as one of those 16 units on the Santa Fe. The unit was later sold to BC Rail in Canada, were the air conditioning unit was removed, and the bell and headlights were modified to Canadian specs. 3611 came to Utah originally working for the Savage, Bingham and Garfield, the group contracted to run trains over the former DRGW Bingham and Garfield branches. Savage also owned another B36-7, and 3611 worked in tandem with that engine. Eventually Savage divested their two B36-7 units, and the 3611 came to Tooele.

The 3611 has had quite a long history, having worked originally on the Santa Fe railroad, then in British Columbia. It first came to Utah to work the "Midvale Tramp" for the Savage group. It was then sent to Tooele, where it became one of the three engines in service at the Peterson Industrial Depot. These photos show 3611 sometime after arrival in Tooele, with "Captain Jack" effectively photobombing the scene.

Once it was stripped of its blue paint, the 3611 took on a rather professional looking gray paint scheme, a stark contrast with the garish neon orange and green hues of its fellow engines at PID.

This close up view of the 3611 shows its high mounted bell on the cab, an artifact from the engine's days in Canada.

Rebuilt EMD GP16. Location: On military bases in Roy and Tooele. Scoular Grain Silo in Ogden, Utah.

Just like the GP10 featured earlier, these GP16 units are the result of a rebuild program that upgraded older GP units into a more modern type of unit. The GP16 was created by the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad by using parts from GP7, GP9, and GP18 units. Most of these units have been sold to industrial operators; and a handful have found their way into working with the Department of Defense.

USAX 4635 started life as a GP9; and ultimately found its way into service for the US Army. After many years of work at Fort Eustis, Virginia; it was last seen at work in Tooele at the army base there.

Scoular Grain near Ogden has a lone GP16 as their switching locomotive.

EMD/Clyde Engineering SD50S. Location: Used throughout the Utah Railway system.

Acquired by the Utah Railway in 2001; these five SD50S units are natives of Australia. Built by Clyde Engineering on behalf of EMD; these five units worked iron ore trains on the Hamersley & Robe River Railway in western Australia. These units have a shorter length than their American built SD50 cousins, have a double insulated roof to protect against the desert heat in Australia, and have horns mounted on the side of the long hood instead of on top. Now on the Utah Railway, a sharp eye can spot the Aussie heritage on these units.

EMD SW1001. Location: Intermountain Power Plant railcar facility; Provo, Utah.

The SW1001 isn't exactly a rare locomotive, but what makes this one particularly interesting are the rumors that when delivered to IPP in 1985, it was the very last SW1001 that EMD built. Besides the garish paint scheme has lead me to nickname this unit as the "Taco Time Locomotive." This SW1001 has the job of serving the railcar facility in Provo, where coal hoppers that are used for the Intermountain Power Plant (IPP) are repaired. However IPP has a far more famous locomotive though on their property south-west from here at Delta, Utah: a Nevada Northern SD7.

Rebuilt Morrison Knudsen MK50-3. Location: Used through out the Utah Railway system.

Originally built as the MK5000C locomotive, the six MK50-3 units on the Utah Railway are evidence of Morrison Knudsen's attempt to break into the locomotive market as a competitor against EMD and GE. Three of the units were painted originally in Southern Pacific's Bloody Nose paint scheme, and three of them were painted in MK's own blue and gold. After testing on the Union Pacific, and the Southern Pacific; all the units were returned to MK. Eventually they found their way into the hands of the Utah Railway, who had the original Caterpillar built diesel motors replaced with EMD engines salvaged from SD50 and GP50 locomotives. Since then, these six unique engines have called Utah home.

Utah Railway 5005 is one of the few MK50-3 units to have been painted in the colors of Utah Railway's owner, Genesee and Wyoming. The uniquely shaped cab is an easy spotting feature of the MK50-3 units.

Utah Railway 5006 is seen here in Provo Yard in-between assignments. It is still decked out in the classic Utah Railway paint scheme.

Rebuilt EMD SW10. Location: Salt Lake,Garfield & Western Railroad; Salt Lake City, Utah.

The SW10 was the result of a locomotive rebuilding program done by the Union Pacific. Based in Union Pacific's Salt Lake City Diesel Shops (now the UTA Warm Springs facility); UP converted many old switchers into the upgrades SW10. 75 locomotives were converted into SW10 units. By the late 1990's UP had sold off the majority of the SW10 class. However, two of these unique units found themselves a home in Salt Lake City on the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western Railroad. This hardy shortline is a Utah railroading icon; and their two SW10 units serve only a few miles away from where they were assembled. A detailed history of the SW10 class can be found on Don Strack's Utah website. 

The two SW10 units on the SLG&W are numbered as D.S.9 and D.S.10. Shown here is D.S.9 hauling a freight train on the western side of Salt Lake City.

D.S.9 shows years of heavy duty work, with oil stains on the hood of the locomotive; and a sun bleached cab which hides its numbers. When the paint was new, red letters in the white boxes on the cab once read "SLG&W, D.S.9"