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

Entries in Needles Subdivision (9)

Tuesday
Jan102012

A Short Seasonal Sojourn to Siberia

Cabin Fever

Despite being on vacation for nearly two weeks during the Christmas holiday, I had yet to venture trackside at any capacity. My time was filled shopping for Christmas gifts, preparing the house for the holidays and entertaining our guests. Eventually Christmas came and went, followed closely by New Years, and, at last, my time had come. It was time to chase some steel before I had to return to work and I began to consider possible destinations.

I ran through some of the options in my head. After considering Tehachapi Pass, Cajon Pass, and the Sunset Route, I settled on my favorite BNSF’s Needles Subdivision. It was NOT summer and the weather was beautiful — I couldn’t resist.  However this time I would try a new spot that has been on my list for sometime but I never had enough intel to attempt it. This was time to see if I could get there.

That place was between West Siberia and Klondike, on the normally westbound track as it ascends the grade of Ash Hill replete with the requisite s-curve to gain elevation. I checked the sun angles for the time period during my trip and it seemed ideal. My plan was set. I packed up my gear and got but two hours of sleep before my restless spirit took hold and I was off chasing the sunrise.

Siberia-bound

As it seems to be the norm these days, I missed being in a good spot for the sunrise. I must have messed up my drive time or the calculations thereof. Oh well, on to Siberia. After a steady push, and a refueling stop or two for me and my truck, I eventually reached the turnoff that lead to the summit of Ash Hill.

I spent a few minutes surveying the scene and checking the traffic on the computer. Nothing was in sight or would be for some time. This was the perfect time to get into position so I did just that. I returned to the pavement of the National Trails Highway and continued east towards Siberia.

Eventually I crossed the tracks at West Siberia and found myself on virgin ground, at least for me. I took the road that I had previously surveyed with the help of Google’s satellite map and arrived at my intended destination after a slow and deliberate drive. I had to drive as far as I could up a mountain, and then continue on foot, to gain elevation over the track otherwise my photos would show a whole lot of earth and not much else.

This photo, taken later in the day on my second visit to this location, shows the general lay of the land from my mountainside perch:

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE - The setting sun illuminates the s-curve of BNSF’s trackage near Klondike, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

I decided to focus on taking some video first so I set-up my gear and I didn’t have to wait long for the first few trains to arrive:

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE 1 - A BNSF four unit intermodal train negates the s-curve as it climbs Ash Hill near Klondike, CA on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.
BNSF 7478 West - BNSF 7478 (GE DASH ES44DC), BNSF 7395 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 5168 (GE DASH 9-44CW) and 6738 (GE ES44C4) are all in Run-8 as they pull this westbound hotshot intermodal consist through the s-curve near Klondike, CA on the Needles Subdivision.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

SIBERIA-KLONDIKE 2 - A BNSF three unit intermodal train negates the s-curve as it climbs Ash Hill near Klondike, CA on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

It Turns Out That I Am Not a Mountain Goat Afterall

After spending sufficent time to photograph and shoot video the trains through this area I sought a more level footing from which to ply my skills. I decided to take a short run further east to East Siberia and give my aching legs a break. Here is a panorama shot of the sweeping curves that can be found at East Siberia:

East Siberia Panorama
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

The first train to greet me at East Siberia was a massive grain train. I thought, ever so briefly, about chasing this behemoth back to the s-curve near Klondike which would make for a compelling photo. “Nah, not gonna do it.” As so, here are two shots of the mega grain train at, and only at, East Siberia, California along with a baretable moving east.

BNSF 5418 West - BNSF 5418 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 5013 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5229 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are up front of a heavy westbound grain train negoiating the s-curve near East Siberia, CA on BNSF’s Needles Subdivision on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 5418 West 2 - BNSF 5418 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 5013 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 5229 (GE DASH 9-44CW) are up front of a heavy westbound grain train negoiating the s-curve near East Siberia, CA on BNSF’s Needles Subdivision on January 2, 2012.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 7228 East - BNSF 7228 (GE ES44DC) and another simliar unti are relagated to “baretable” duties as they bring a string of empty intermodal cars through the OS at East Siberia.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Onward To Amboy

Eventually a lull in traffic developed that left me restless. I decided to head further east to seek out the trains. This effort brought me to the trains and to Amboy, California:
BNSF 7282 West - BNSF 7282 (GE ES44DC), BNSF 6755 (GE ES44C4), and BNSF 5507 (GE DASH 9-44CW) bear down for the climb out of the Amboy Sink with a westbound intermodal train at Amboy, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Westbound “California Coal”
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

I planned to shoot the sun setting over s-curve near Klondike so I opted next to back west to get into position. Along the way the traffic became plentiful once again and I took advantage of it by staging at the crossing just east of Bagdad, California:

Short and Stout - BNSF 7391 (GE ES44DC) leads six other units, and a DPU on the rear, on the point of this very short westbound manifest consist out of Amboy, CA.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Three Trains from the Crossing Near Bagdad, CA - I caught three trains pass the crossing just east of Bagdad, CA. The second train in the video has a vintage warbonnet unit on the point and two more buried in the consist and the train is a manifest train to boot! Old school railroading again!
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

BNSF 528 East - BNSF 528 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 523 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 541 (GE DASH 8-40BW), BNSF 542 (GE DASH 8-40BW), and BNSF 160 (EMD GP60M), a rare lash-up these days, provides the horsepower to this eastbound manifest train through Bagdad, CA and reminds me of railroading from yesteryear.
[1/2/2012 - Needles Subdivision] © 2012 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

S-Curve Sunset

As previously stated I intended to shoot the sun going down behind the s-curve so I made my way there in sufficient time to do so. I set-up my tripod and made a series of shots and waited. However, no train showed up before the sun went down so I was left with the shot at the top of the post — sans train.

Next up I wanted to try and do some night signal photography so I went back to Siberia. When I arrived I started to set-up my tripod and I proceeded to pull one of the legs completely out of the tripod! Damn it! This is the third tripod that I have broken. What gives? Doesn’t anyone make a DURABLE tripod?

Without a stable platform, or a sufficient backup, I was forced to head home, which I did. I felt the day was productive and I, as always, was eager to do some post-processing and evaluate my efforts.

Until next time. 

Thursday
Mar102011

A Moment Alone - One of My Favorite Photos

I thought I would share a photo that I took in June last year that is one of my personal favorites because it is where I am in spirit, always:

A Moment Alone - A rare lull in traffic allows for a study of the infrastructure elements that comprise BNSF’s transcon route near Cadiz, CA.
[6/12/2010 - Needles Subdivision] Copyright © 2011 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.
A Moment Alone - Black and White - A rare lull in traffic allows for a study of the infrastructure elements that comprise BNSF’s transcon route near Cadiz, CA.
[6/12/2010 - Needles Subdivision] Copyright © 2011 Joe Perry. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Aug152010

The BNSF 4311 West Became Everyone's Bad Day

BNSF Engineer “Leonard” wipes his brow as we all wait.The radio crackled as an assertive and calm voice made a call for help, “Fort Worth Mechanical, this is BNSF forty-three eleven West.(We later learned that the voice belonged to the BNSF engineer of a westbound manifest train. His name is Leonard.)

In short order the reply came in loud and clear, “Fort Worth Mechanical, go ahead BNSF forty-three eleven West. (Fort Worth Mechanical is BNSF’s Mechanical Department which is based in Fort Worth, Texas and is a help-desk of sorts for the operating crews out on the rails.)

Leonard then proceeded to describe the predicament that he, his conductor, and their manifest train were in, some thirty-five miles west of the crew change point at Needles, California, “I keep getting a wheel-slip alarm on one of the units. If I go over 5 miles-per-hour then the alarm goes off.

A short discourse between Leonard and the voice from Fort Worth Mechanical then ensued and it became clear that this is not going to be a good day — for neither Leonard or me. You see, I was out “chasing steel” on the Needles Subdivision and had just left Needles and was heading west looking forward to some heavy traffic levels that I have become accustomed to along the Needles Sub.

As we listened to the chatter between the Fort Worth Mechanical guy and Leonard we gleaned that the train was now stopped and the conductor, poor soul, was at the rear of the train to check things out. The temperature was hovering around 105 degrees, if I recall correctly, at that time. (It really doesn’t matter once it gets over 95 degrees anyways. It might as well be 120 degrees!) The conductor, John, reported that the Number 3 axle was frozen and that those two wheels were not turning on the single rear DPU which was BNSF #704. John also stated that it appeared that each wheel on that axle had a good size flat spot at the point where the wheel meets the rail. (This is akin to a flat tire in your car.)

As we rounded the bend west of the West Goffs control point, we could see a stopped train ahead. As we drove along the train and reached the head end my suspicions were correct in assuming that this was the now infamous BNSF 4311 West. I stopped the truck and took some photos.

BNSF 4311 West is stopped west of West Goffs while the situation is assessed and a plan to correct the problem is devised.

Since I was going to be driving back to the rear of the train, I carefully approached the lead unit and motioned for Leonard to open his window. I asked him if the conductor needed some water or anything since I was going to be driving to rear of the train. Leonard replied that John just radioed him and said he was fine because he had water and AC in the rear DPU. Off I drove to see the problem first hand.

The offending unit, BNSF 704 holds the single rear DPU position with John holed up inside and, fortunately, out of the elements.The axles are number from the front, so the number 3 axle would be the leftmost axle in this view.

Here is a close-up view of the number 3 axle. You can see the melted steel glob that formed just behind the wheel on the left.At this point a plan was devised. The dispatcher had “dispatched” a helper set of locomotives to provide the train with enough power to get over Ash Hill once the axle was cut out or the unit was set out somewhere. Also, a railroad equivalent of the auto club tow truck for you car, a “responder” was dispatched from Needles to the scene. The responder is a member of the mechanical department for the BNSF and he has the knowledge and tools to fix most things, including frozen wheel sets or traction motors.

All of this was going to take time, not just to get to the location of the train but also to effect a resolution. As such, and the bane of my fears, the traffic on the line began to come to a standstill. A main element of any railroad’s transcontinental route is a carefully orchestrated dance of trains and crews to keep the shipments moving efficiently and effectively. With the BNSF 4311 West now occupying the normally westbound line it created a traffic jam for the dispatcher, whose job it is to keep things humming along. It is akin to one lane of a two-lane mountain road being unavailable — traffic will back up on both sides and it will take some time to recover the normal flow of traffic.

Leonard performs the obligatory roll-by inspection of a passing train while waiting to get his train moving again.

The first train behind the stuck 4311 is now run around the stalled train by way of the normally eastbound rail.After being dispatched out of the terminal at Needles, the responder eventually arrived on scene. He stopped at the head first and placed flags on the lead unit to signify that he was performing work on the train and that it is not to be moved at all. Only he can remove the flags.

After flagging the head end and meeting with Leonard, the responder drove to the trouble spot, the rear DPU unit where John and us waited. When he reached the rear of the train John briefed him on the situation before them.

John, the train’s conductor (left), brief’s the “Responder” on the issue.

The responder takes a closer look. He is careful not to get too close yet since the other main line track is still in service at this point.

Once the responder has seen the problem first hand he positioned his vehicle closer to the train. However, before he could get to work and fix the frozen axle he wants the other main line closed so he is protected from possible injury by a passing train.  

The responder flagged the rear unit as well and is now ready to work. Before he does though, he calls the dispatcher to get the main line trackage shut down for protection. As the process of closing the second main line down continued, he became apparent that this was going to take some time. The sun was setting and I wanted to get some shots in the “good light” of late afternoon so we decided to move on further down the line to see if we could capture some other cool scenes of railroading across the Mojave Desert.

As we prepared to leave I approached John and the responder and wished them the best of luck. We headed west on Route 66. As we reached Leonard at the front of the train we stopped and wished him well also. With a blast from the train horn we drove off. 

Unfortunately I didn’t learn the outcome of the stuck BNSF 4311 West. Perhaps someone who does will post a comment and let us all know. 

As we reached the next control point west of the stalled 4311, CP Fenner, we took a shot of an eastbound intermodal stopped at the “all red” indications:

BNSF 7552 East is stopped at CP Fenner and waits, like us all, for the 4311 West’s problem to be remedied.One final shot was taken of the road home as we headed west:

The Road Home