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

Entries in Southwest Chief (2)


Our Best Trip Ever - Part 5 - Chasing at the La Posada Hotel

(Continued from: Our Best Trip Ever - Part 4 - A Railfan Oasis, The La Posada Hotel)

Day 1 (Continued)

Track Side at La Posada

From a railfan’s perspective, the La Posada Hotel is blessed with a plethora of both, mainline trackage and plenty of traffic, that form the southern border of the property. Considering the hotel’s history, a place for weary travelers of the Santa Fe Railway Company to get some rest and good eats, this is by design. As such, the hotel’s grounds provide a welcome sign of sorts amidst the parch and arid landscape in this part of northern Arizona. Butted up against the platforms of the Winslow Amtrak station, a semi-circular brick plaza morphs into a walkway that leads directly to a portico and the lobby of the hotel. Today, as it was then, this area serves as fantastic train watching vantage point, complete with wood rocking chairs for the guests to rock their cares away as they watch the parade of trains, from all points east and all points west, go by.

From a photography standpoint, the track side location presents some challenges with respect to lighting. The orientation of train traffic is east-west but you will be shooting from the north side of the tracks which, given the latitude of Winslow, Arizona, puts you on the dark side of most shots. The early morning hours are great for eastbounds catching a clear indication out the Winslow yard while westbounds are best lit in late afternoon/evening. I favor the westbound shots as the sight distance is greater and often you can catch multiple headlights in one scene.

Winslow is the eastern terminus for the Seligman Subdivision which means trains coming west into Winslow are arriving off of the Gallup Subdivision which covers the territory from Belen Junction, New Mexico to East Winslow, Arizona.

Winslow is a crew change point for the BNSF. It marks the point at which a new crew takes over a train and runs it to the next crew change point down the line or the train’s final destination, whichever comes first. As such, the trackage consists of four main tracks and it is not uncommon to see four trains stopped waiting to be re-crewed and then get a clear indication (green signal to proceed) either west or east out of Winslow. Typically the re-crewing process can happen in minutes, but it can happen rather quickly too if the train’s priority warrants it and the new crew is ready to jump on board. All of this means that you will not, if ever, see a train blow by the La Posada Hotel at any measure of speed like you will out on the mainline but this affords you the opportunity to catch details that are hard to see at 70MPH.

“Well, I’m a standing on a corner — In Winslow, Arizona — And such a fine sight to see…”

After the day’s long drive, a short nap at the WalMart, and the shooting around Winona and Darling, I had resigned myself to take it easy at this point in the day and just enjoy what the hotel had to offer. Camera in hand, but no other gear, I headed track side to see what was going on.

It was late in the day and the sun had already begun it’s final plunge beneath the horizon. I took up position on one of those wooden rocking chairs and prepared to take the sunset in and just enjoy the moment. When I took a look towards the east to see if any headlights were on the horizon I was pleased to see that there was but I was also puzzled because the displacement of the lights were not those typically found on today’s motive power. I saw the “train” take the switch at East Winslow and begin to come down Track 1 — right in front of me.

Once the unit came closer I could discern that this was a “maintenance-of-way” consist and more precisely, a rail grinder. As the grinder slid by I could see that the train set was fully staffed — men at each station along the consist — which told me that this was not merely a move but rather a working job. It was great to see a rare consist but at the same time it was also a little disconcerting because it meant that some of the trackage would be out of service as the work was being performed and this could impact the traffic levels.

I was so inquisitive about the doings that I had completely forgot that I had camera in hand! Just as the head end passed me, it was moving in reverse, I remembered that fact and began shooting. The following few shots are of Loram’s (LMIX) RG402 working on the mainline in front of the La Posada Hotel:

Loram’s RG402 at Sunset - One of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Loram’s RG402 at Sunset 2 - One of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 5191 East at Winslow, AZ - BNSF 5191 (GE DASH 9-44CW), BNSF 4485 (GE DASH 9-44CW), and BNSF 7876 (GE ES44DC) hold the point duties on this eastbound manifest out of Winslow, AZ as one of Loram’s new rail grinders, LMIX RG402, prepares to work on BNSF’s Seligman Subdivision right in front of the La Posada Hotel in April 2011.
[4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

As the sun receded, I began to think of how cool it would be to get a shot of the grinder in action at night throwing sparks. Despite the fact that I had resigned myself to chill that night, I hesitated only slightly before making a beeline off to my truck to retrieve my tripod. A tripod is critical in low-light situations such as these.

Upon my return I saw the grinder in the distance waiting for traffic to clear so that it could switch tracks and make another run. I used the time waiting to some more shots of passing trains and of the Winslow Amtrak station.

Winslow Sunset Silhouette - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Track Side at the Amtrak Winslow Depot - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

BNSF 6073 East at Dusk - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Amtrak Winslow, Arizona Postcard - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

During our visit the Amtrak depot is still in use twice a day. There are plans underway to convert the building, which is owned by the La Posada Hotel, into a museum. This would cause the stations functions of being an Amtrak facility to move to the La Posada Hotel proper. A new gate, fitting of such a role, is currently being hand-crafted and assembled to welcome passengers from the Amtrak service to the hotel. Based on what Allan and his team have done with the La Posada Hotel renovation and reopening, I am confident that the new museum will be fantastic and I hope to be there for it’s grand opening.

Southwest Chief Route Map - Click to view larger version.

Amtrak Service at Winslow, AZ - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

Eventually the Loram crew were given the rights they needed to occupy Track 4 and perform their work of grinding the rails. I set-up my tripod and prepared for their run. This was the moment I waited for. As she came by I snapped photo after photo.

When I left the tracks and got back to the room I uploaded the images onto my Mac. I was a tad bit disappointed. I had underestimated the speed the grinder would make as it went by and the result, see below, is blurrier than I had hoped for. However, it was fun to see firsthand and you can clearly see the shower of sparks produced by the train’s effort. (Sorry folks — I am still learning this thing they call photography…) ;-)

RailGrinding Train at the La Posada Hotel - [4/17/2011 - Seligman Subdivision] © Copyright 2011, Joe Perry

In my next post I’ll cover Day 2 of our trip as I “chased” at the La Posada Hotel all day.


Bonus Content - What is rail grinding all about?

As I began to write this post I wondered what the benefits of a rail grinder were so I did a little digging. Here are some of the key benefits of rail grinding as extolled on the Loram Maintenance of Way web site as well as a link to a rather progressive advertisement for their new RG400 series of rail grinders:

Loram’s “There’s a Better Way to Rail Grind” ad.


  • Extended rail life
  • Fuel savings
  • Reduced surfacing cycles
  • Extended track component life
  • Reduced wear on rolling stock
  • Increased axle loads
  • Increased train speeds
  • Improved ride quality and passenger comfort


The next best thing to being there and seeing this activity in person is watching a video of a rail grinder in action at night. Here is a good one from Shemanta’s YouTube Channel:

Great video of a rail grinding train at work at night. Shot at MP 116 on the Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Line by Shermanta.


Trains at Los Angeles Union Station in HDR: Part 2

Continuing from my previous post, here are four more photos from Los Angeles Union Station:

An Eclectic Consist - An eclectic mix of cars constitute this Amtrak train set awaiting departure at Los Angeles Union Station.
[11/23/2010 - River Subdivision] © Copyright 2010, Joe Perry
Thanksgiving Passengers - Metrolink locomotive SCAX 895 (EMD F59PHI) and Amtrak AMTK 507 (GE P32BWH [Dash 8-32BWH])provide the power for their respective trains at Los Angeles Union Station as passengers detrain from the recently arrived Amtrak’s Southwest Chief just prior to Thanksgiving.
[11/23/2010 - River Subdivision] © Copyright 2010, Joe Perry
Flocks - A flock of birds fly west as a flock of Metrolink locomotives, SCAX 881 (EMD F59PHI), SCAX 851 (EMD F59PH), and SCAX 853 (EMD F59PH) rest at the end of their morning runs to Los Angeles Union Station.
[11/23/2010 - River Subdivision] © Copyright 2010, Joe Perry
Gold Line Departing - A Metro’s Gold Line train departs from Los Angeles Union Station heading east to Pasadena in early morning light.
[11/23/2010 - River Subdivision] © Copyright 2010, Joe Perry