Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Behind the Scenes of UTA's Warm Springs Maintenance Facility

This very lovely iron sign featuring a, rather detailed, MP36-3C greets guests at the main entrance to UTA's Warm Springs Maintainance Facility.
It’s Thursday evening, a tired commuter has just disembarked a Utah Transit Authority TRAX Green Line train at the North Temple/ Guadalupe Bridge Station.  After a long day, the commuter is ready to end the day from his busy office in downtown Salt Lake City, with hopes of returning to his family.  At 6:28 PM, the rails start to sing as a northbound Frontrunner commuter train eases into the station.  A few minutes later, the train sets off for Ogden, Utah.  The only responsibility for the weary commuter now is to relax, kick back, and enjoy the 53 minute run to the “Junction City”.  But little does this particular individual, let alone most of the train’s passengers, know about the true difficulty involved in running a commuter system with 55 weekday trips.

UTA 18, one of 18 MP36-3Cs on UTA's roster, waits for the final passengers to board before setting off for Ogden, Utah.  This particular photo was taken on the weekend of the Salt Lake Comic Con.

Initially, 55 trips doesn’t seem like a lot of stress on the railroad, but for UTA’s dedicated team, it’s a race against the clock. To ensure successful operation of the line, it is vital that they maintain and repair 8 operational trainsets for use during peak hours of the weekdays, with locomotives on standby in case trains encounter mechanical difficulties.  But in order to make all of these repairs, they will need a massive facility to maintain the 18 MP36-3Cs, 38 Bombardier tri-level cars and the 25 former New Jersey Transit Comet I cars. UTA needed a plan before opening Frontrunner North to the public in 2007.

UTA 15 eases out of Salt Lake Central Station enroute to Ogden.  Salt Lake Central is the main transfer point for UTA Frontrunner, UTA TRAX, UTA Buses, Greyhound Buses and Amtrak's California Zephyr.  It is worth noting the makeup of the train, which always has an MP36-3C for power, a former NJ Transit Bombardier Comet I coach, and three Bombardier Tri-Level coaches/cab control cars.

In 2003, UTA got their wish by acquiring a great railroading treasure.  It was one of top repair facilities on the Union Pacific system, built in 1955 as the first “new” diesel repair shop.  The facility is located in the heart of UTA’s Frontrunner system, just a mile north of the North Temple/ Guadalupe Station in downtown Salt Lake City.  I am talking about Union Pacific’s former Salt Lake City Shops, or commonly dubbed by railroaders as “Warm Springs.”  This 61 year old building serves jointly as UTA’s primary storage yard, long & short term repair facility, dispatching center and lastly an active crew change point.

Above is the general map of the Warm Springs facility.  All particular areas of the shop have been color coated and the matching correspondents are listed on the left. (Exact locations may slightly differ)
Let's start with some further history.  The new shop costed $6 million to build and initially provided employment for about 400 men, bringing UP's employment in Utah to over 5,000 people. At its peak in the mid 1970s, the shop employed over 500 men and women.  The shop was the most modern of it’s time, revolutionary in that it was a specific diesel repair facility. On January 6, 1998, Union Pacific announced that the Salt Lake shops would be closed to consolidate its locomotive maintenance facilities in the western United States.  The shops remained stagnate for almost 30 years, until UTA officially took ownership of the complex.

Both of Warm Springs' cranes rest towards the east end of the shop, the 250 tonner bearing the American Flag.  They frame two of UTA's workhorses, No. 3 and No. 20, as they oddly sit nose-to-nose in the center of the massive building.

For those keen eyes who caught the turntable on the map above, here it is.  Part of the original UP, this turntable occasionally sees action to spin the MP36s around.  Note the car shop and former Metra "Gallery" Bi-Level car in the background, both used by UP crews.
The building itself is an engineering marvel, being built completely of steel, making it extra durable.  Most joints have been held together with thousands of rivets, making it one of the strongest buildings in the state of Utah,  I've heard from several employees that they feel safer in that building than they do in their own home, depending on what area of the shop they are in.  The reason for it's strength lies in the two giant cranes which lurk above the surface.  These two cranes are rated at 150 tons and 250 tons, which is able to lift locomotives the size of Centennials (EMD DDA40Xs) off of the ground.  The two cranes are still operational, but in order to be operated, they need to undergo certification by structural and mechanical engineers, of which would cost thousands of dollars.  Instead, locomotives and cars that need a lift will be hoisted a few feet into the air, courtesy of 4 hydraulic jacks.

This is one of 4 massive hydraulic jacks used by the crews.  All major locomotive repairs, (such as replacing traction motors, fixing engine components, etc.,) is done by Motive Power Industries' successor, Wabtec.
UTA's Wasatch Front Corridor stretches from the city of Provo to the south, all the way to the city of Ogden, to the north.  The total route, consisting of 15 stations, runs for nearly 90 miles.  UTA owns their own right of way betwen the two listed cities, but service extends a few miles north to Pleasant View, which Union Pacific mainline is used.  To avoid excessive usage of UP's track, only two services in each direction are offered on weekdays.  Overall there are 16 total Frontrunner stations and a crew change point located outside of Warm Springs.
Here is a cab view of the MP36-3C.  As it can be clearly seen in the photo, the cab is equipped with cameras (literally) all over the place in order to enhance the safety of the crew and passengers.  Also notable is the extremely simple setup and throttle configuration that found on most other diesel locomotives.
Here is the control panel found on the "Cab Car", as said before, it is again simplified for more fluent operations of the trains.  Noteworthy here is the much tighter quarters and the rather small windshield that the operator uses.
The trains operate push-pull style, which means that there is a locomotive on one end of the train, and a coach, which is fitted with locomotive controls, on the other.  These odd cars are often referred to as "Cab Cars".  Operation protocol states that the locomotive leads the train to Ogden, and the "Cab Car" runs the train south towards Provo.  From end-to-end, the trip is about 2 hours, 45 minutes to Ogden, 75 to Provo (from North Temple).  During most weekday and weekend runs, the trains leave North Temple on the hour in both direction, making it a great photography spot for Frontrunner meets.  Other trains leave downtown Salt Lake on the half-hour during the morning/ evening commuter rush.
Accidents can and will happen, no less could b e said for the fate of UTA 118, which testifies as the first mainline derailment on the Frontrunner system.  The unfortunate cab car was put "on the ground" after it collided with a utility truck which was fouling the Frontrunner right-of-way south of Lehi station.
What does the crew due to insure that these operations run smoothly?  It all begins with routine maintenance to the trainsets.  Each trainset contains a Motive Power Industries MP36-3C, which is rated at 3600 Horsepower.  The units get their "C" designation from the Caterpillar C-27 Head End Power (HEP) engine on-board.  Following the locomotive, the train is equipped with one Bombardier Comet I coach, these coaches were previously owned and sold by the New Jersey Transit Authority,  They have since been refurbished and reconfigured, giving a retro-feel to the passengers who choose to travel aboard these cars.  The following cars are a mix of Bombardier Tri-Level coaches or "Cabcars".  These cars were purchased new by UTA for use on the system, and come to a total of 16 coaches and 22 Cabcars.  Most of the coaches are equipped with bike racks, and are generally the second car in the train (behind the Comet I), making it more convenient for biking commuters.  The third car can be another Tri-Level coach or Cabcar,  The fourth is always a Cabcar, which allows the train to return southbound.
Here is the pit used to service the trainsets in the inspection tracks.  From this vantage point, one can get a very close look at brakes and wheels of the locomotives/ cars.
Each trainset needs to be inspected every 24 hours, per FRA regulation.  During those inspections, the brakes are tested, the train is cleaned, and all other systems/ components are checked.  If needed, the locomotives are refilled with fuel and are sent through the "Trainwash" to get cleaned.

Traction motors used for the MP36-3C are seen stored here in the heart of Warm Springs, standard wheelsets for the coaches are visible in the background.
Disc brakes are one of three ways to stop a train going 79 mph.  These guys are assigned to the Bombardier Tri-Level cars, with one equipped per axle.  The other two methods to stop the train are a combination of ordinary clamp brakes and dynamic brakes, created by the MP36 locomotives.
If something is in need of dire repair, which can't be quickly fixed in the inspection tracks, the piece of equipment will be pulled out and moved into one of the shop's various repair tracks.  Such repairs include changing wheelsets, brakes, traction motors, etc.  Other repairs include replacing seats in the coaches, fixing the engines, and even bringing 901, UTA's lone RP39-2C, in for inspection.
Here lies the "trainwash", which is a little larger than one might use to clean their family Sedan.  Following the inspection process, the train may have the opportunity to take a bath and get cleaned for the passengers.

As the commuter disembarks his train at "Junction City", little is reflected on the true work it takes to make his simple 50 minute journey possible.  Through the extraordinary effort of UTA's dedicated team, the 90 mile commuter rail network is on track to proceed into the future.

There are a number of elements I love about this scene.  The primary one lies in the two "STOP - MEN AT WORK" signs (also known as "Blue Flags") just behind the appropriately placed basketball hoop.  It sure seems as if they use my life slogan: "Work hard, play hard."
- Schon N.

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