Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Spring of 2012; A Railfan Trip Down to the Durango and Silverton

Spring break of 2012; I was a young adult ready to graduate high school when my dad and I set of for a journey down to the Four Corners area. I had a desire to go and see the famed Durango and Silverton railroad. I was a relatively new railfan, having been actively photographing trains for only a few years. 

It was during this time I had a hankering to go and see some good steam engines at work. Other than my family trips to Disneyland every other year or so; I rarely got the opportunity to see steam engines. The clean, polished, and cooking grease fired steamers at Disney also made them seem less authentic than "the real deal" engines lurking at other railroads and museums. It had been years since I had visited the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, and at that time the Heber Valley's steam had gone quiet. My only memories of steam that were fresh in my mind were a brief encounter with Virginia and Truckee #29 in Virginia City, Nevada; and a brief chase of UP 844 through my hometown in late 2011.

August 8, 2010; other than my encounters with the Disneyland steamers; I went years between my experiences as a small child seeing UP 618 and the Promontory engines in steam, to the point in 2010 when I got to see Virginia and Truckee #29 "Robert C. Gray" pulling a short car load of tourists into the station in Virginia City, Nevada. I didn't get to ride the engine that day; nor did I have more than ten minutes to admire it... But the oily smoke, the hissing machinery, and the beautiful appearance of this 2-8-0 reignited a passion for steam engines within me.

If the V&T 29 piqued my interest in steam engines, it was the UP 844 which set the hook! I was lucky enough to have the 844 pass through my hometown on the Lynndyl Subdivision during my senior year of high school. Compared to the hundreds of miles some railfans take to chase these steamers, my brief jaunt across the county from Stockton to Erda, Utah; was rather modest in comparison. Yet the image of a large steamer blasting through my hometown has stuck with me.

One amazing thing about steam engines is that you don't need to be a dedicated railfan or "foamer" to understand the appeal. A large crowd of locals gathered in Stockton, Utah; to see UP 844 when it stopped in town. This sight would be repeated nearly three years later in 2014 when Big Boy 4014 was towed through town dead in consist.

With my renewed interest in steam engines reaching fever interest; my dad and I planned our trip to see the Durango and Silverton. Along the way, we would stop at both Arches National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park. Our route would take us over old Denver and Rio Grande Western territory, including Soldier Summit and Spanish Fork Canyon (places I finally got to go and railfan up close just a few weeks ago as I wrote about in this blog post here). I was a new comer to Soldier Summit at the time, I had only passed through the route twice before; first time in 2006 with my family (back when SD40T-2 units such as DRGW 5371 still called Helper home), and a second time with my local Boy Scouts of America group to go to a camp in Moab. I wasn't stopping to admire the scenery in Spanish Fork Canyon with my dad, as my knowledge of the area was still growing and new. I had heard about the Thistle landslide, and I knew that Helper was named after helper locomotives; but that was about it! 

On a bit of non-train related side note; my dad and I stopped in Moab to see Delicate Arch before setting off on the road again. Once we reached the vantage point of the arch, rain clouds formed and soon we were drenched in a quick desert rain. Fortunately, my camera stayed dry during the process; ready for the train pictures coming up the following day...

After a surprisingly wet stop in Arches National Park, my dad and I continued on our trip to Durango, Colorado. What followed was one of the most quirky road trips I had ever been on. My dad and I entered what was new territory for the both of us as we passed down into the Four Corner's region. My Grandfather Lyman insisted that we stopped in Dove Creek, Colorado; to buy him some Anasazi Beans. After searching the town high and low to buy some Anasazi Beans, we continued on our trip; beans in tow, only to shortly there after recognize the brakes on our old Dodge Caravan weren't doing so good... As we made the descent down Highway 160 in darkness, my dad was fighting the brakes in the car to keep us on the road. Our dramatic descent into Durango was without incident though, and we were fortunately able to come to a stop at the end of the road! 

It was there at the intersection of Highway 160 and 550; that I got my first glimpse of the Durango and Silverton railroad. In the cold damp air, steam was rising above the roundhouse; suggesting the slumbering steam locomotives inside. Few moments in my time railfanning have made me feel like I was in another time; that I was witnessing something far more ancient than I was (walking around East Ely yard in the Nevada Northern, and watching a set of MK50-3 units being fired up in Martin, Utah; are the only comparable memories in my mind). I was ecstatic for our upcoming trip on the railroad, and could hardly wait for the next day! 

Of course, we had to find our hotel building... After driving up and down the 550 a bit, we finally pulled our beaten Dodge Caravan into a parking lot and set off to sleep for the night. It had been a long trip getting there!

After my dad ensured that our Dodge Caravan was in a repair shop getting new brakes; we finally rushed off to the train station in Durango. Durango is a unique town; while the railroad gives it a certain historical appeal, tourism and the local university have kept the place modern. This is not the hard luck mining town that the Denver and Rio Grande Western served; but instead a modern small city. While the darkness of the night made the sight of the railroad more authentic feeling, in broad daylight it felt more anachronistic. The large McDonalds encroaching the railyard, only helped to further the feeling like the railroad was the prized antique in a very modern city. Any feelings of modern encroachment though were shunned when I finally got to get close to our train.  

The classic narrow gauge rolling stock was being lead by D&S 478. An ALCO 2-8-2, the utilitarian look of this K-28 class engine was in stark contrast with the refined taste of the V&T 29, the race horse look of the 844, or the pristine colors of those Disneyland engines. 478, looked like a true working steamer, weathered; oily, and dirty. Appliances sat on the frame and smokebox of the engine, hissing and growling. The coal smoke it breathed was dirty and dense; not unlike the smelters and mines this engine was built to serve. The winter snowplow was still affixed on the pilot of the engine, and gave it a sort of mean, aggressive look. It was everything I was hoping for, and as we climbed aboard for our trip to the Cascade Wye, I was excited to see this machine in action.

After our train left Durango; we began to climb through the river valley and then slowly up through a small forest on approach to Rockwood. Even though our train was running in what is considered "the off-season" for the Durango and Silverton; we still had quite the crowd with us on the train. The first car was entirely full of school kids on a trip, with their teaches herding them and keeping them in line. There was a large amount of European tourists. One of them who I remembered, was a man from Britain who was taking a month long vacation to the United States. He was riding Amtrak across the country, getting out to see the tourists steam railroads along the way! Another group of European tourists smuggled what appeared to be a zip lock bag of Vodka onto the train, and were sharing it among themselves.

I was spending a large chunk of the trip from one of the open air cars, watching as our train entered Rockwood. The forest here made it hard to see the engine up front, but the distinct chuffing sound carried all the way back to us. After departing Rockwood, we began our trip along the highline route.

There is a very good reason that the highline on the Silverton Branch is world renowned. The Denver and Rio Grande Western and its predecessors, seemed to have an astounding habit of building railroads in the most extreme of mountain passes. Sharp curves and sudden drops can give riders a sense of vertigo, as the train slowly crawls through the terrain. It is absolutely a gorgeous area to, making it look less like a real railroad; and more like something out of the mind of some model railroader. 478 held up well making the trip, even as her stalk barked in loud chuffs signalling the effort the engine was putting into keeping our train climbing up hill.

After crossing the bridge over the Animas river, our train came closer to the waterside. This part of the trip is not to dissimilar to the experiences one may get on the Heber Valley Railroad in Utah or other tourist lines; as the train snakes alongside a river in a forested canyon. Of course, even in springtime this forest of the Durango and Silverton was chilly; a reminder of its high altitude. We were truly in the heart of the mountains, and 478 pulled us towards the Cascade Wye.

Now out in the woods, parked on the leg of the wye, and away from such modern structures such as Durango's McDonalds and coffee shops; #478 truly looked like it was back in its element. The forest was a great backdrop to view the engine, and crowds gathered around to closely inspect the stalwart machine which had brought us this far on our journey. Of course, even at rest on the wye; the crew was preparing our train for our departure back to Durango. The engine's two air compressors on its smokebox were firing constantly, probably filling up the air tanks to provide a steady air stream to power the brakes which would keep our train under control on the downhill trip. Every time the air compressors fired, the front of the engine would violently shudder; as if the machine was sneezing! 

Our trip down hill had the benefit of being able to try and nag some photos and views of the train for a second time. We crawled along the highline again, admiring the scenery one last time before our train returned to Durango. Although the Cascade Wye "off-season" trip is shorter than the summer season trains to Silverton, it is still a lengthy journey which takes a round trip of three hours to complete. Compared to modern passenger trains, or highway speeds; the narrow gauge steamers of Durango are rather slow. Yet, the view is incredible; and watching a train being pulled by a steam train is always a ton of fun. I am pretty sure sometime during this leg of the trip, a piece of ash from the engine landed in my eye! Ouch! One of the few downsides to riding behind a coal burning steamer I guess! 

On our return to Durango we toured the line's roundhouse. The roundhouse was built in the 1990's to replace the original, which had been destroyed in a fire. We toured the museum displays inside, then watched as diesel engine #11 began switching the yard. The Durango and Silverton's small fleet of diesels are used only for MOW trains, yard switching, and dry summers where using a steam engine runs the risk of starting a lineside fire. 

Once our Dodge Caravan left the repair shop, my dad and I were off out of Durango on our way to see Mesa Verde National Park. Although we had left behind the famed railroad, the memories of riding behind a K-28 climbing up the Animas River valley is still fresh in my mind.

-Jacob Lyman

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Graffiti - Art on the Move

Love it or hate it, graffiti is a part of every modern day railfan's adventures trackside.  Although highly illegal (taggers who are caught can face fines and jail time) it occurs in nearly every corner of the continent and on many different surfaces and locations.  Railroad cars are popular among taggers as there is a seemingly endless supply of 'canvases' and the works are seen across many geographic regions.  Although not formally accepted as art by a vast majority of professional artists, many examples of graffiti exist that can make the argument to be considered as art while many more examples exist proving that graffiti shouldn't taken seriously and thus be discouraged. Even if a particular piece of graffiti seems artistically acceptable, federal laws govern the display of data and numbering on freight cars and if covered up in any way the railroads can be hit with heavy fines, hence the strict prosecution of known taggers and graffiti artists who claim to see no harm in adding color to otherwise dull railroad equipment.

Take for instance this sample I photographed in Salt Lake City, UT on 8/4/16.  It is typically known as a moniker and this one is a simple drawing of a person with the words 'A mind that wanders'.  What is its meaning?  Depending on who reads it, it could be anything.

Monikers derived from the steam era practice of carmen and trainmen who would mark information about cars on their sides with chalk (destination, load, physical defects, etc.).  Hobos picked up the style and began leaving their marks as well, "signatures" to show where they had been.  Hobos even took the practice a step further and created a code that told fellow 'travelers' what to expect on their journey.  They are unique, reflective, and generally unobtrusive. Their exact opposite are the more common and flashy gang symbols that smother many cars with competing tags.

Here is a unique sample found at Peterson Industrial Depot in Tooele, UT on 9/6/16.  Judging by the lettering style, it was likely tagged by a gang.  Look at the attention to detail in the lettering and in the shading/highlighting.

Here is an example of 'turf tagging'  Photographed at Echo, UT on 9/28/16

This ethanol tank has also fallen victim to the turf wars of some inner city.  (Jacob Lyman photo)

This car has a rather large painting of what is likely the abbreviation of a gang name.  This type of tagging can be used to advertise a particular groups presence or even used to mark territory.  Photographed at the Weber River Bridge near Croydon, UT on 9/28/16.

Jacob Lyman found this elaborate graffiti on an SP boxcar in Salt Lake City's North Yard in September 2016.  Many jokes about "the hype train" ensued.  (Jacob Lyman photo)

One can only speculate what the meaning of this particular specimen is, but you have to give credit for creativity using nothing more than a few spray cans.  Photographed at Weber River Bridge near Croydon, UT on 9/28/16.

In this photo, we see a string of boxcars and nearly everyone has graffiti visible on it.  This is how bad the problem is becoming on a much smaller scale.  Photographed Salt Lake City, UT on 8/1/16

This CP Rail auto rack has an assortment of tags on it, including one that would suggest an identity crisis.  Note the tagging around the red panel on the side of the car as well as the attention to detail in the design of the lettering on the bottom of the car.  (Schon Norris photo)

Detail of that red panel (from a Jacob Lyman photo)

This Union Pacific reefer was another one of Jacob's strange graffiti catches in September 2016. (Jacob Lyman photo)

Another example of the variety of colors that can be seen is found on this hopper, taken by Schon on 9/10/16.  (Schon Norris photo)

Occasionally, a tagger will take up a freight car and leave a creation that truly can be admired.  Something I spotted in Wendover, UT on the 16th of January this year really caught my eye and I had to stop and grab a picture of it.  Yes, it's graffiti.  No, I don't condone it.  But, I can appreciate the effort to create it.  There is true skill in the work that was put into this and I admire the craftsmanship.

Not even locomotives are immune to the taggers spray can.  See this example of a Union Pacific GP60 taken by Schon Norris on 9/10/16.

So, whenever you are sitting trackside waiting on the next train, or sitting at a grade crossing waiting for the train to pass, keep your eyes peeled for some this art on the move...

(Graffiti - Art on the Move is the first truly collaborative effort of the Desert Empire Project.  Credit for this post goes to Josh Bernhard, Jacob Lyman, Schon Norris, and myself.  Many thanks to these fine gentlemen for their assistance on this post.)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The End? Utah Railway Coal in its Final Days

December 26, 2016: a cut of swing helpers highball through Spring Glen, Utah (south of Helper). These helpers had just left Martin Yard and are on their way to the Savage coal load out to be cut into the loaded coal train at the load out.

In 1912 the Utah Coal Railway began construction to provide better rail service to the coal fields of central Utah. Following the Denver & Rio Grande line over from Helper into Provo the line also consolidated several of the smaller coal railroads in central Utah to form part of the new road. The road worked with the D&RG in running trains until 1917, when the line began running their own trains with their own locomotives. During these early years the railroad's name would be shortened to the far simpler Utah Railway.

Don't let the paint fool you! This engine never worked in revenue service as Nickel Plate 324 nor is it the original Nickel Plate 324. In fact this engine worked in revenue service as Utah Railway 306. After retirement, Utah Railway 306 was bought by famed steam restoration leader Doyle McCormack. The original Nickel Plate 324 was one of the engines which inspired Doyle's interest in railroads as a child and he chose to use Utah 306 to recreate that. This engine enjoys a posh retirement in Portland, Oregon; working from the same engine house as the famed SP 4449. Doyle keeps it in operating condition.

(First photo credit to Josh Bernhard, second and third photo credit to Matt Liverani) Utah's preserved Utah Railway ALCO unit is the Utah Railway 401. This RSD-15 unit started its life on the ATSF railroad, and when it arrived on the Utah Railway it had only a few small changes to its Blue Bonnet paint scheme before entering service on the Utah. After its retirement, the engine was donated to the NRHS where it got a second life working for Broken Arrow in Tooele County. In 1998 this engine joined the Utah State Railroad Museum collection.

The Utah Railway would serve as a vital part of the coal hauling system in central Utah for nearly a century from that point forward. Their steam locomotives shared track with the Denver and Rio Grande Western's trains. When the diesel era came, the Utah Railway adopted ALCO as their primary engine supplier, contrasting with the EMD ruled lines elsewhere in Utah. As the days of the ALCO's on Soldier Summit came to an end, the Utah Railway became known for its eclectic diesel roster of unique locomotives. In the late 20th century the line adopted a distinct red and gray paint scheme which had been designed by a local model railroad enthusiast. A collection of secondhand EMD power replaced the ALCO's. Their neighbor on Soldier Summit the fabled DRGW, was merged into the Southern Pacific, and later the Union Pacific.

Over this century of change the Utah Railway was still doing what it had been doing for 100+ years; hauling coal. Coal was the lifeblood of the line; and Utah Railway coal trains were a frequent sight on Soldier Summit. However time slowly began to erode the apparent lack of changes on the Utah Railway. The UP-SP merger forced the railroad to join BNSF in a joint business venture to run local freights through the Wasatch Front. Coal was no longer the sole commodity on the Utah Railway, as beginning in the late 1990's the Utah Railway was hauling everything from lumber, copper, rocket parts, sulfuric acid, crude oil, and more.  The 2002 purchase of the Utah Railway by the larger Genesee & Wyoming brand was another major change on the line. Slowly the unique red and gray Utah Railway locomotives began to disappear for months on end, and then return to Utah painted in the corporate G&W orange and black paint scheme.

Then the unthinkable began to happen: Utah Railway's coal market began to dry up. Changing fortunes in the mining industry, environmental legislation shutting down coal power plants, and economic pressures began shuttering the remaining coal mines in Utah Railway's coal country. The end of coal shipments from the Wildcat load out in Spring of 2015, the last coal loadout accessed exclusively by the Utah Railway, reduced the railroad to only serving the Savage loadout on the UP line (Wildcat remains in use for occasional oil trains). Utah Railway was reduced to running one train out of Savage once a week to then transfer it over to the Union Pacific in Provo for the final leg of its journey to the IPP power plant near Delta, Utah. Then at the end of 2016 rumors began to circulate that the Utah Railway was going to lose their coal hauling contract with Savage. Those rumors were confirmed as the year came to a close and it was announced that the last Utah Railway coal trains would be running in December 2016 and January 2017. This news came as a shock to the railfan community, and railfans world wide mourned the loss of the venerable Utah Railway coal trains.

With this news the members of the Utah Rail Enthusiasts Facebook group and of the Desert Empire Project began to make plans to chase the last Utah Railway coal train of 2016 on December 26, 2016. I had never photographed a Utah Railway coal train before, so I eagerly joined the trip to get the opportunity while I still could. Josh Bernard took the opportunity to film more footage for the documentary Trackside and the two of us traveled together to chase the train.

With the temperatures well below freezing most of the day, we started of by passing through Provo Yard at dusk. A flotilla of BNSF engines sat at the ready in the yard while UP power hummed away in the distance. A few Utah Railway engines sat in the yard, including one of the MK50-3 units (as it would turn out the other five MK50-3 units were out at Martin, four of them preparing for the coal train we were going to chase). Around 7:00 am, at the far end of the yard, the coal train we were waiting to see pulled up into Ironton to officially switch out the Union Pacific crew with a fresh Utah Railway crew. It was still rather dark, so we decided to start heading up Spanish Fork Canyon to find some trains in the morning light.

Sunrise at Martin Yard. Track once full of coal hoppers is now loaded with oil tankers and covered hoppers full of sand for fracking.

With the coal train coming up in the day's schedule; a group of Utah Railway employees were out in the yard working on clearing the switches coming in and out of the engine house. Between clearing the switches and getting the engines ready to depart; the Utah Railway employees at Martin had a full day of work ahead of them.

Our first stop out of the canyon was Martin Yard. Martin is Utah Railway's yard located on the north west end of Helper. The centerpiece of the yard is an old engine house dating back to the 1920's. The air roared with the sound of the EMD 645 motors which were inside the MK50-3's and SD50S units which were preparing for a days work. Despite the modern locomotives and railcars in the yard, Martin feels uniquely trapped in time; and it is almost easy to imagine a steam engine easily trotting around the yard lead. Yet Martin also showed evidence of how the falling coal market had impacted the Utah Railway. Gone were the coal hoppers, and in there place were covered hoppers and crude oil tankers. Carbon County is beginning to see oil fracking replace the coal industry, and one of the new trackside structures on the former DRGW route south of Price is a large yard to load crude oil into the tank cars stored in Martin. Hopefully this new industry can sustain Utah Railway operations into Carbon County with the coal traffic disappearing.

At Kyune we finally found the Utah Railway coal train moving downgrade on its approach into Helper. The locomotives on point and as the train's DPU units are Union Pacific power. There are a variety of rumors as to why Utah Railway was using UP power instead of their own locomotives. Some suggest that UP had power restrictions on the Utah Railway due to maintenance problems with Utah's aging fleet of six axle locomotives. Other rumors suggest it is simply due to the fact Utah Railway doesn't own enough six axle units to man an entire coal train. Either way, Utah Railway has still been using their own power to man the mid train helpers on these coal trains as well as to run the new oil trains leaving the region.

With the coal train back on approach we went up to Kyune, where we met up with a large part of the other railfans who joined us in the chase. We didn't have to wait long to see the coal train we were chasing. With a load of empty hoppers, the Utah Railway was manning a set of Union Pacific units to take the train down the grade.

With its load of empty hoppers; the coal train passed one of the most venerable landmarks in central Utah: Castle Gate, a rock formation with two stone walls forming a natural gateway. This location has been a landmark along the rail line for years. Sadly, a large chunk of Castle Gate was destroyed many years ago by UDOT as part of a highway expansion project. The  remaining parts of Castle Gate though are still a highly photogenic location to catch passing trains.

Just south of the Castle Gate rock formation was the Castle Gate Power Plant. This former Utah Power and Light plant was one of the oldest coal fired power plants in Utah. With stricter environmental rules enacted over the last few years, the plant's current operator PacificCorp/Rocky Mountain Power; decided to mothball the old plant. As of right now work crews are demolishing the plant. The crumbling steel walls of the power plant with demolition crews working around it is another sign of changing fortunes in Utah's coal country.

When the coal train arrived in at the Savage load out, our railfan group broke up a bit as we searched for any action in the surrounding area. At Wellington, Utah, we found a Union Pacific coal train which had originated at West Elk in Colorado and had been left idle in a siding over the Christmas holiday. Many UP trains had stopped for the holiday, and rumors circulated that a large portion of UP employees had called "sick leave" for December 25... Either way, the West Elk train was left in the siding for the day; and we never saw it move during our time there. 

UP 6699 was left on point on the West Elk coal train tied down near Wellington, Utah. 

UP 6333 had a bit of a banged up side near the cab; suggesting it was victim of a sideswipe accident of some kind.

The Utah Railway coal train was bound to take a few hours to load, so we set about trying to find ways to entertain ourselves while waiting for our coal train to leave. The Provo Subdivision has become increasingly quiet since the UP-SP merger over 20 years ago, and railfanning there sometimes means waiting hours between trains. The slow start up again from the holiday surely wasn't helping our luck on this trip either!

This Vanderbuilt tender located on private property south of Helper was once used on one of Utah Railway's steam trains. To my knowledge, no other parts of Utah Railway's steam trains were preserved.

After returning from Wellington Josh and I found that the helper set for today's train had been moved out of the engine house at Martin and linked together. The engines on all the helpers were roaring as Utah Railway crew checked them for their upcoming departure.

In rural parts of the former DRGW, there are still No Trespassing signs marking the land as owned by the DRGW. 

Waiting for the coal train to depart gave us a few hours of downtime. One of the things we did to keep ourselves entertained was to visit the outdoor displays of the Western Mining and Railroad Museum. Josh has been to this museum before, but this is the first time I have visited there. The indoor displays were closed but we walked around the outdoor displays. The DRGW spreader was particularly impressive; and with the snow covering the ground, it was easy to imagine that spreader was ready for the call of action at any moment. Many of the devices on display were equipment from old mines through out Utah.

This narrow gauge electric locomotive represents the common machines used in underground mining operations. These locomotives could have spent years of work underground hauling mine cars.

This mucker on narrow gauge track was used to clear mud out of a Lead/Silver mine near Park City, Utah.

This DRGW spreader is arguably the highlight of the museum collection in Helper. The wood bodied car indicates the spreader is an older machine but the EMD MU cable mounts suggest that this spreader survived in work well into the diesel era.

Hours passed between the coal train reaching the coal load out and when the swing helpers were finally called for the train. The cut of Utah Railway locomotives left the yard in Martin, then highballed straight down the main. Josh and I nearly missed the helpers departing; but we found them near Spring Glen and followed them down to the load out.

At Spring Glen, Utah; MK50-3 Utah Railway 5004, is at point on the light power move. These locomotives will be added to the coal train being loaded at Wellington to help the train make it over the pass.

Utah Railway 2001 was dead in consist with the helpers to be transported back up to Utah Railway's yards in Provo and Midvale. 2001 was built as DRGW 3032 and it was very exciting to see a former Grande locomotive rolling about on this route. It also seemed fitting that one of the locomotives to participate on Utah Railway's final coal train scheduled for the year would have come from the DRGW.

The helpers arrive at the wye north of Wellington to turn out towards the Savage Coal Load Out.

With the helpers now at Savage; our crew of railfans reassembled to watch the train be built on the wye. It was a race against the clock for us, as we hoped to see the train depart early enough to reach the canyon before sun down. The helpers pulled of onto the wye while the rest of the train opened up a cut in the loaded coal cars to allow the helpers to slide into the middle. It was as if the Utah Railway workers were performing a coordinated dance with thousands of tons of steel and coal. The helpers slid into place and air hoses were connected. We were ready to watch the train depart when the air test results began to come over the scanner. There was a failure in the system, the train hadn't built up enough pressure in the air tanks due to the cold air. We sat and waited hopping the second test would produce better results. Even from our position on the opposite end of the wye we could hear the hiss of air as the second test started. Over the scanner we heard the announcement that the second test had the PSI needed; and the train was soon off! Our group of railfans rushed into our respective cars, and the chase was on!

Our next stop to catch the Utah Railway coal train was halfway between Price and Helper. Again, the UP engines were still on point of the coal train.

However the fact this train was a Utah Railway train was well on display with the set of seven locomotives in the middle. Although the 2001 was dead in transit the other six engines were hard at work to help the train make its uphill climb. Five of the engines still wore the classic Utah Railway paint scheme, a welcome sight for our group of railfans.

The Utah Railway helpers sure attracted a lot of attention from our crew. Besides Josh and I, other railfans who were out there on this chase at various points in the day were Matt Paulson, Spencer Peterson, Chaice Moyes, Sean Paul Anderberg, Aaron Pederson, and Jeff Hardenbrook.

The DPU's were our last catch at Book Cliffs as they pushed the train towards its coming assault with the canyon.

Sadly, it seems the small delay in the train was enough to push its arrival into the canyon during sunset. The mountains surrounding the Nolan Tunnels cast the train in deep blue shadow. From our vantage point near a highway turnoff high up in the mountain, we watched the train crawl like a giant snake along the grade.

Although the blue shadow of the setting sun was detrimental to our attempts to take pictures at Nolan; all of us enjoyed the view from high above the track. The sharp curves and steep grades of the route were easily visible from our vantage point, and it felt like we were not observing a real railroad in action; but instead observing the fantasy setting of a model railroad in somebody's basement. This is part of the magic allure which has kept the Rio Grande's routes in the conscious mind of so many railfans world wide. 

Our Utah Railway helpers before hitting the tunnel portal.

Fortunately by the time we pulled further up the mountain into Colton, we found a little bit more light for us to work with for our final shots of the train. A van owned by the crew transport company PTI sat at the crossing to relieve the Utah Railway crew which had been with the train since the morning when Josh and I found it first at Ironton. A fresh crew would take it back to Provo, to then exchange it with the Union Pacific. The train showed up after a short wait, and the last rays of light caught it kicking up snow in the vast field surround the train. 

We seemed to be watching the crew change in reverence and awe. For many of us this would be our last opportunity to chase a Utah Railway coal train. While rumors suggested that a few more coal trains would run into January; many of us had work or school conflicts which would prevent us from being on the summit for that final train. In my case, this was my first time being up on this world famous route to railfan. While I have passed through several times in my car on trips to Moab or Durango this was my first experience chasing a train up here. I wish that the experience had not come at such a somber moment in railroading history as the Utah Railway prepared to wrap up their long history of hauling coal. 

Of course if one thing remains constant in the world of railroads, it is rumors and changes. We left thinking this train on December 26th would be the final coal train; yet it didn't take us long to hear that there were a few more trains scheduled in January to meet Utah Railway's contract. Although the contract expired at the end of 2016, it seems a requirement to haul a certain tonnage amount of coal might have the Utah run a few coal trains in 2017. The coal train we chased on the 24th might not have been "the last coal train on the Utah Railway" if those rumors prove to be true; yet it was officially the last train to run under the dates set in the contract. Of course we had other rumors to contemplate while we chased the train. Some say that BNSF is preparing a new plan to route coal from the Powder River basin out onto the old DRGW route and into Provo. According to this rumor, the BNSF coal loads will be picked up in Provo to be transferred to Ogden by none other than the Utah Railway. Many of us hope this rumor has a grain of truth to it, as the thought of the Utah Railway forever losing coal traffic is a hard idea to swallow. Until that rumor becomes fact though; it seems as if the end of Utah Railway coal trains came during the cold winter days at the end of 2016; and on the start of a new year in 2017.


Note; as of publishing this article it is still uncertain how many coal trains Utah Railway might need to run to fulfill the tonnage requirement in their contract. Rumors pointed that a train would run on January 9th, but recent reports suggest that train has been struck from the schedule. If our train on the 25th was the third to last or second to last coal train for the Utah Railway; has yet to be seen. We here at the D.E.P will be keeping track of any news as this situation unfolds.

UPDATE January 12, 2017: Recent reports report one more train to run under the contract to meet the tonnage requirements on January 16, 2017.

Information on the history of the Utah Railway can be found on UtahRails.Net

Footage of the Utah Railway coal train chase and some footage from our train chase in Milford a few months ago can be seen in the trailer for the documentary project; Trackside: The Story of Railroad Photographers, which has been filmed by Josh during these railfan trips we have been taking.