An eastbound train lights up the Foss River canyon as it crosses the trestle on the climb to Stevens Pass.
Last weekend was the annual Tracks In The Snow gathering in Skykomish, Wa. This event is for Northwest railfans to get together and railfan Stevens Pass with snow on the ground. Since it occurs annually it has become primarily a social gathering where we spend time talking about what is new in Northwest railroading, what is new in our families, talk a bit of trash, and do a bit of gossiping. Oh, ya, we do take photographs of railroad activities but most of us have photographed all the accessible places already so we aren’t as rushed to get to the next photo location as we have been in past years.
I go each year with the thought that I’ll relax and photograph the things I haven’t seen before. In fact I thought of exactly one pre-planned photo that I wanted to take and a couple of concept ideas. The rest I was going to play by ear and motivation. The photo above in fact was something I played by ear. The rest of the group is on the road just around the corner under the bridge and I didn’t want to get the same photo as they did.
I drove up to Sky on Thursday night. My plan was to check into the Cascadia and then head out for some night railfanning. As I arrived #8 was headed into the tunnel and a Z train was following it up to Scenic. With nothing else eastbound it was going to be a couple of hours until the next train so I decided to take a few photos around town and turn in with the thought of being up early for my night railfanning.
I awoke the next morning at 4:30am. I had intended to wake up at 5:30 but for some reason I was wide awake. I checked ATCS and I had 3 eastbounds headed my way so I got up, got ready and headed out for my night shot. The only wrench in the plans was the first eastbound left east Skykomish on an approach medium signal. With no trains ahead that likely meant a slide fence had come down on the hill. Sure enough the first eastbound reported to the dispatcher a small slide had come down at 1725.3 in the vicinity of the “high slide” fence. The result was trains would proceed at restricted speed for 2 miles between signals. Yikes. In the end the slide fence didn’t result in any issues, just a longer transit time between Sky and Scenic.
Thanks to a slide fence a couple miles east, this is one of the first clear signals a westbound train will see on the morning of February 1, 2013.
More to come about Tracks In The Snow….
Just before sunrise an eastbound Z train lights up the trees just east of the Foss River trestle. The slide fence at 1725.3 is still down so the train has an approach signal at 1728.2.
One of the big issues with railfanning Stevens Pass can be having a train at the right time. Thanks to siding and tunnel contraints the pass can effectively only handle about 20-24 trains in 24 hours. Add in the fact BNSF uses Stevens primarily for intermodal trains, leaving the empty grain and coal trains for Stampede Pass, there can be slow times on the hill.
Friday morning was NOT one of the slow times. At one point there were 5 trains between Berne (siding just east of the summit) and Baring (3 sidings west of the summit). I was thrilled! Non-stop trains and the weekend was just getting started!
Remember from the last post that a minor slide tripped the slide fence in the middle of the hill. I figured at some point that would slow things down. Sure enough the signal maintainer and track inspector both hi-railed down from Scenic following Amtrak 7. Fortunately it didn’t take them long to fix the fence and get things moving. In fact I’m guessing they didn’t delay the eastbound at Skykomish any since it would have had to wait at Scenic for a tunnel flush from the train ahead anyway.
I watched three trains at the Money Creek grade crossing on the Old Cascade Highway while starting to communicate with the others visiting for the weekend. The final train I saw pass was an empty oil train from Cherry Point. It looked nice sporting new,clean tank cars. Geez, if only the environmentalists knew it was there! With the fog hanging around the warming snow Money Creek ended up being a wonderful spot to capture a few trains.
The detector at Grotto (1735) is just about to inspect an empty oil train.
I moved over to Winton on the east side of the pass for what ended up being 3 trains. It seemed they just kept coming! Finally just after noon a MOW crew wanted to remove snow between Merritt and Berne slowing things down a bit. I met Mike, Nick, and Joel at the 59er Diner for a leisurely lunch while MOW crew did their thing. Sure enough we didn’t miss a darn thing!
The V-WENPTL with a smoky unit is about to head in at Winton to wait for the oil train and some MOW on the hill.
After lunch I beelined for Scenic to watch 3 trains meet and the sun set. Then around 5pm I headed to the Cascadia to meet up with everyone and enjoy some desert (I got the last piece of mixed berry pie!). After a lull I watched two more pass Foss River. Doing a bit of counting I ended up seeing 12 trains between 5:30am and 9:30pm. Not too bad of a day on Stevens Pass!
Saturday Robert and Joel hopped in with me for the day and we joined up Dale and his brother Reed. These guys are great to hang out with since we all enjoy the best of planes and trains. ATCS and FlightAware are the main apps on all of our phones! Our destination for the day was the Trinidad hill area. Unfortunately traffic on Saturday didn’t start off as strong as it did on Friday so we sat at Winton for a while to wait for an eastbound to meet Amtrak 7 at Scenic.
Amtrak’s Empire Builder crosses the east switch at Merritt, Wa.
BNSF spent quite a bit of time removing all the snow from around their their facilities in town.
While at the school house crossing we had an interesting discussion with the landowner there. I’ll save all of you the gory details and just say that he is less than friendly towards folks parking in his driveway (we confirmed on the Chelan County GIS site the road is HIS driveway not a public road despite the fact BNSF marks it as a public crossing). We hoped to chat with the sheriff he threatened to call but that didn’t happen. It was a good lesson in remembering to treat others as you would want to be treated.
S SEACHC1 31 storms through Winton, Wa. The bright sun made a cool morning feel nice and warm!
We caught an eastbound train at the Longfibre crossing in Winton then made way for the other side of Wenatchee. From about Leavenworth almost to Quincy the fog had things socked in pretty good. No sunny photos to be had in this area. We stopped along highway 28 at West Quincy and waited. In fact we waited a couple of hours for anything to happen. In the mean time we enjoyed speculating why a Delta 757 diverted from Sea-Tac to land at Moses Lake. After some phone calls we found out they had a generator fail which prevented them from landing at Sea-Tac under ILS. They needed VFR where they didn’t have to rely on the generator to make power.
Finally the SPOEVE and the SEACHC showed up setting off a 4 train wave that lasted us until dark. The Z SSECHC6, which was the third of this group, did a pick up of fruit at Quincy before heading for Spokane. Our last train of the day ended up being a westbound S LPCTAC. Unfortunately nothing else moved on the hill until Amtrak 8 passed through. Now that I count we only caught 5 different trains throughout the day. I guess that is more typical for Stevens.
The pole line is still in place east of Quincy, Wa.. With PTC on the horizon who knows how much longer it will be here to frame photographs.
Up next, the last day…
Morning Hotshot. A westbound Z train heads for South Seattle and the crew for a Super Bowl Sunday off.
Sunday’s line up of trains looked spectacular Saturday night. Like typical the “Super Bowl flu” struck and nothing on the line up seemed to be moving. When I awoke ATCS showed nothing. Not a single line up or occupancy anywhere west of the tunnel. I hung around the hotel lobby area with Joel for a bit until a westbound appeared. We joined up with Robert and headed to the Skykomish River bridge at Money Creek.
I have to admit I’ve photographed this place many times so despite how interesting it is I’m not always excited about returning. My last visit to Stevens in 2011 I captured my all time favorite image of this location which makes me even less interested in it. No matter, I like trains, so there has to be something to photograph there.
When I arrived I decided to do a pan. The sun had not risen yet it was light enough to get a decent exposure. A nice little cloud hung over the valley giving me a nice lid for the scene.
I think the pan turned out alright. The train was moving much slower than I thought it would be so my shutter speed choice was faster than it should have been for a pan. Still the result was ok and I’m happy with it.
That’s it for my 2013 Tracks in the Snow adventure. It was another wonderful weekend of hanging out with friends and enjoying trains.