random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries in News (41)


"UP" for a Chase? 844 Comes to California

A Living Legend Comes to California

Today marks the beginning of the “return-trip” for Union Pacific’s “Living Legend,” No. 844, after participating in what Union Pacific dubbed the Centennial Tour to help New Mexico and Arizona celebrate their one-hundred years of statehood.

UP No. 844 - Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Pacific’s No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific, delivered in 1944, and will travel more than 2,900 miles from its base in Cheyenne, Wyoming during the 32-day, nine-state tour that will honor the rich railroad heritage of the scenic Southwest.

Weighing in at nearly 1,000,000 pounds, the ground literally shakes as she rumbles by at track speed. It is a rare opportunity that shouldn’t be missed—and those folks that reside near the return route from Yuma, Arizona through California, Nevada, Utah, and western Wyoming, should take advantage of this opportunity to see one of America’s great steam engines plowing the rails. The following map shows a high-level view of the route:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No. 844’s excursion into California begins a mere hour or so from now (7:00 AM PST) as she leaves Yuma, Arizona after a day of rest while on display at the border town. As the following schedule for the day indicates, she is enroute to Bloomington, California—a.k.a. West Colton, where she will be serviced and then tied-up for the evening. She will also receive servicing at Niland, California on her way to Colton and this is a good opportunity to get an extended view of the locomotive standing still. If a steam engine at speed is more your thing then grab a wide spot in the road track side and wait for her to come blowing by:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Residents of Southern California will get the same opportunity to view No. 844 up close and personal as the folks in Yuma, Arizona did because on Friday, November 18, 2011 the No. 844 is slated to be on public display at 10359 Alder Avenue, Bloomington, CA 92316, from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM:

View Larger Map

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday presents a rare opportunity to watch a steam engine struggle against the grades and curves of the much vaunted Cajon Pass as No. 844 leaves Colton and heads to Yermo, California on BNSF rails over the pass. Traditionally, with events such as a steam train traversing the pass, expect a lot of traffic and sightseers all along the route on Saturday. Cajon Pass is one of the favorite locations for local railfans and the smoke from the engine can be seen for some distance in the pass which will garner the attention of travelers on Interstate 15 as well, which dances with the BNSF and Union Pacific rails throughout the southern section of the pass. (I plan on making this part of the trip—see you out there chasing steel!):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

For me, Sunday offers the crème delecrème portion of the trip through California—the run north out of Yermo towards Las Vegas, Nevada. This portion of the trip traverses some of the most spectacular scenery of the tour in California. Two areas rich in scenery are Afton Canyon and the Mojave National Preserve surrounding Kelso and Cima: 

NOTE: Afton Canyon is extremely remote and should only be attempted by serious four-wheelers, but the Kelso and Cima areas are easily accessible—just remember they are a long way from services such as food, water, and gas—so make sure to top off everything before you leave Yermo.

UP Cima Subdivision Chase Map and UP Tools

Since most folks rarely get into this remote area of California, I thought that I should provide my “Chase Map” for Union Pacific’s Cima Subdivision to assist you in planning your chase. Simply click on each image below to downlaod:

Union Pacific also offers two methods of tracking the locomotive during excursions such as this one. The first one is the internet-based tracking applet on the UP Steam web site. The other one is the newly released iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app called UP Steam:

UP Steam app - available for both the iPhone and iPad

UP Steam Locomotive Tracking Map

Be Safe and Enjoy the Experience (My PSA)

Before you head out to enjoy the experience at the location of your choosing be sure to read my post called “The New Rules of Railfanning: Don’t Trespass, Be Alert, Report Issues” as it details some of the challenges and risks of being trackside.

Also, remember that any track is a live track and don’t assume that you can hear a train coming. Many times folks lose their focus when a steam train approaches and they mistaken assume that the railroad knows they are there and have closed other tracks for this steam train. This is not so! Since the railroad is private property the expectation is that you are NOT there. Also remember it takes a good deal of distance to stop a train so just stay off of the tracks—all tracks. A safe trip is a FUN trip!

Don’t Do This!

How NOT to behave around railroad tracks!


Union Pacific Leads the Way

So Much For Having a Plan

Last night I settled in to my usual haunt, the easy chair in the front room, and perched upon my lap was my trusty Apple MacBook Pro. I had plans to research and craft a blog post that was long overdue. You see, the Union Pacific Railroad is embarking on a grand tour of the Southwest with one of their treasured and glorious steam engines replete with appropriate carriages of old in tow. The purpose of the event is best left described by a few passages from their press release:

Omaha, Neb., October 10, 2011 – Union Pacific Railroad’s iconic steam locomotive, No. 844, will travel through the Southwestern United States to kick off state centennial celebrations in New Mexico and Arizona, respectively. No. 844 is the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific and will travel more than 2,900 miles from its base in Wyoming on a 32-day, nine-state tour that will honor the rich railroad heritage of the scenic Southwest.

“Union Pacific long has been a part of the Western United States landscape,” said Scott Moore, vice president of public affairs for Union Pacific’s western region. “It is fitting that No. 844 will be the flag bearer for these centennial celebrations.”

The “New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour” begins October 29 when No. 844 departs Cheyenne, Wyo. The train’s consist, which will include passenger cars from Union Pacific’s renowned Heritage Fleet, will stop in each of the following cities before arriving back in Cheyenne November 29…

Map of the scheduled route compliments of the Union Pacific Railroad.

UP No. 844 - Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad.

Obviously this is a big event with a lot of visibility that, over the course of a month, will bring joy and stir the hearts and imagination of many throughout the Southwest. Sure, the UP runs trips like this now and again, but there is something about seeing a steam locomotive, and particularly a large locomotive such as UP Np.844 roaring by at track speed that makes these events special each and every time. Hence, I felt the need to help spread the word about the event and to enlighten the uniformed of the opportunity to chase this train as it makes it way on a circular route through Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and finally returning to Wyoming.

The most appropriate place to start, for me, was crafting a colorful map detailing the route and stop-overs. Also, I wanted to mark the locations that I am familiar with that might present some amazing photographic opportunties and help identify good, safe locations for non-fans to see the train up close. I turned to the Union Pacific’s web site to gather details.

While I was reading UP’s material on the subject, and “hitting the links,” I came across a page that, excuse me, gave me the cause to exclaim aloud, “Holy Shit!”  The page is titled “Union Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotives Join the App World.”

Now i have praised the Union Pacific in the past, not only for their steam program, but for their prolific use of current technology to inform and entice the general public to become part of the event. It is clearly an excellent marketing strategy that I, as a die-hard railfan, am thankful for. Here is the complete press release from the Union Pacific Railroad:

Union Pacific Railroad’s Steam Locomotives Join the App World

Free UP Steam App Now Available

Omaha, Neb., October 28, 2011 – In the golden age of steam locomotives, trains were tracked using a timetable and a pocket watch. Converging old and new technology, Union Pacific’s legendary steam locomotives now can be tracked with the touch of a screen. The free UP Steam app is available at Apple’s App Store in iTunes for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users.

Combining new technology and Union Pacific’s historic steam locomotives, the UP Steam app offers users the chance to keep up with the locomotives on their latest excursions.

App features include:

  • Real-time GPS location of Union Pacific’s steam locomotives.
  • Up-to-the-minute schedules of the latest Union Pacific steam excursion.
  • Notification if Union Pacific steam is scheduled to be within 50 miles of the user’s current location.
  • Photos, videos, descriptions and history of Union Pacific steam locomotives No. 844 and No. 3985.
  • The ability to submit photos taken with an iOS device for inclusion in the Union Pacific Facebook photo album.
  • Real-time Tweets tied to twitter.com/up_steam.
  • The ability to “check in” with the Union Pacific’s steam locomotives using Foursquare.

In addition, the app includes an “About Union Pacific” section describing the company’s operations, shipping information and an overview of the products Union Pacific routinely ships.

As you can glean from the release, it is a rather comprehensive application — offering some great features. Based solely on the description it seems like the application was conceived purposefully to present the technologies that most folks would care about. Now, I say “based solely on…” because I haven’t actually had a thorough oppotunity to test the application. I intend on doing a complete review sometime soon.

So, rather than putting together a traditional blog post about the excursion event, I cracked open a new program for me and used it to craft an homage to the Union Pacific’s effort and desire to put out the app. Hopefully it will serve to inspire and encourage you to try out the app and follow the excursion on your iOS device, along with me. My thought is that application could, and should, serve to enlighten and inform, fans and the general populus alike, about the doings of Union Pacific’s Steam Program.

Chasing Steel’s Homage to Union Pacific’s Steam Program iOS App



Thank you Union Pacific.


Union Pacific's ICTF Family Days 2011

Giving Back and Sharing the Magic

On Saturday, October 22, 2011, Union Pacific’s ICTF (Intermodal Container Transfer Facility) threw a party to honor the facility’s employees and their family members. It was also an opportunity to take off the hard hats and safety gear and just relax and enjoy good food and activities with other team members. The event was “ICTF Family Days 2011” and I was graciously extended an invitation to join in the fun and frivolity. So I cleared a couple of hours off of my busy schedule and headed towards the heart of the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor region.

What’s the ICTF?

Tucked in and nestled amongst the refineries and processing facilities of Long Beach, California and adjacent to the interchange of Interstate 405 and 710, lies Union Pacific’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility or ICTF. This 233 acre facility is a keystone component in Union Pacific’s intermodal business and provides a very valuable service to the shipping companies that dock at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.  A good portion of the shipping containers that are destined for locations in the interior regions of the United States are transferred to trains at the ICTF.

More details and photos are available in last year’s post: “Union Pacific’s ICTF - An Amazing Complex.”

Honoring the Past

On July 30, 2005, Union Pacific announced thier “Heritage Series Locomotive Program.” A press release decsribes the program as:

Union Pacific’s Heritage Series Locomotive Program“…an unprecedented new Heritage series of locomotives that will honor the people and the railroads that have made the company what it is today. Each locomotive will feature a unique paint scheme, incorporating elements of one of the six major railroads that have merged with Union Pacific.”

“It is important that we take an historical perspective of who we are and how we got here,” Davidson said, (then Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Dick Davidson). “Our reputation as America’s greatest railroad has been strengthened by the many lines that have become a part of the UP. It is time we pay homage to those railroads and the generations of men and women who helped to build a great nation and the foundation for our future.”

Since the ICTF’s heritage goes back to the days of the former Southern Pacific Transportation Company, the Union Pacific had UP 1996 on hand to help mark the occasion:

UP 1996, the Southern Pacific Heritage Unit. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

It was announced on August 11, 2011 that Union Pacific’s Heritage Locomotive Fleet Program was selected as a winner of the 2011 Brunel Awards International Railway Design Competition. The fleet represented the United States in the category of “Industrial Design, Corporate Branding, Graphics, and Furnishings.”

One of the static display booths featured the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department staffed by local agents with their vehicles and exhibiting old police memorabilia such as this helmet from the old Southern Pacific Railroad Police. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Honoring the Fight

Also on hand was UP 7400, Union Pacific’s GE C45ACCTE that is painted in a special “pink ribbon” scheme as a tribute to Union Pacific’s support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and the many lives – employees, community members, friends and family – affected by breast cancer.

Unfortunately the unit was partly obscured by “caution tape,” which can be seen the photo of the UP 1996 unit above, and I couldn’t get a good sunlit angle on the unit. (You can see the unit in the poster at the bottom of the post.)


The two units on display, UP 1996 and UP 7400, offered employees and guests alike an opportunity to safely see a modern diiesel-electric locomotive up close and personal. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Union Pacific’s Miniature Train

One of Union Pacific’s most popular “goodwill ambassadors”, and at this event it was no different, is their miniature train, the UP 956. The train was built in Union Pacific’s Omaha locomotive and rail car repair shops in 1956 and the mini-train is sometimes called the “Pride of the Omaha Shops.” It is often booked for company and civic events, including parades, for up to three years out. The train has two cars that afford full-size passengers an opportunity to be a kid again.

The hit of the party, UP’s miniature train, the UP 956. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

An apprehensive wave from a youngster who just boarded the miniature train for his first time. I am not sure if he was leery of the ride or of the unknown guy taking his photo! © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

After exiting the train from his ride, a youth takes a closer look at the caboose on the rear of the minature train. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

 A an apparent future sports hero settles in for the ride. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Up until 1998, the miniature train traveled around the 23-state UP system in a pair of special boxcars stenciled with “Miniature Train Service” on the side of the boxcars. Now the train moves to each event in a custom big-rig, akin to a racecar hauler, built exclusively for the mini-train. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.

Rounding Out the Event

Catering for the celebration was provided by the insanely popular In-N-Out Burger, Dogzilla (Not your typical wiener!), and Kogi (Korean BBQ-To-Go). Certainly not a bad way to dine by any stretch.

Besides all of the booths for various interests and vendors, activities included music, raffles, games, and activities for the children — including the requisite carnival-like games .

There where numerous static displays of vehicles including units from the Union Pacific Railroad’s Hazmat Unit and Railroad Police, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Fun was had by all.

Thanks to agencies such as the Los Angeles County Fire Department donating their time and equipment, there were cool things to look at up close. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.


I wish I could have stayed all day and ate to my heart’s content and enjoyed all of the events, but my schedule did not permit it. I did manage to burn through one camera battery and two SD cards as I took nearly 325 photos during my time at the event.

I would like to thank the Union Pacific Railroad for extending an invitation to my family and I. It was extremely considerate of them to do so. I had a great time and look forward to being part of any future events they might have because they know how to throw a party!


A poster featuring my representaion of the Union Pacific’s ICTF Family Days 2011 event held on 10-22-2011. Click for a larger version. © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry, ChasingSteel.com.