I Took The Train

A few weeks ago I attended a forestry conference in Tacoma and instead of driving up I hopped Amtrak Cascades.  Price wise the $50 round trip ticket came to about $10 less than I would spend for fuel for the same trip.  Once I added in the wear and tear on the vehicle and the insurance it ended up being a screaming deal.  On top of the price benefit I also enjoyed my ride by catching up with social media, taking a few photographs, and chatting with a friend who photographed my train.  It was quite relaxing actually.

My northbound trip departed on a Thursday afternoon at 2:45 PM.  We stayed pretty much on schedule until we began meeting southbounds just north of Kelso.  First was a late 513, then 2 more freight trains until we started to slow north of Winlock.  Since I am a railfan I understood we left CP 72 on an approach medium and when we slowed further at the approach signal to Napavine South I knew we were going to stop.  Sure enough the conductor came on and informed us we were stopping at Napavine South thanks to “a Union Pacific local”.  Great, LIC-55 was working the  mill at Napavine.

We waited.  And, we waited.  After about 10 minutes a southbound UP manifest roared by at track speed on main 1.  A couple of minutes later we crossed over to 1 to get by the local.  Sure enough LIC-55 had finished their work, left their cars at Napavine, and were headed down to Chehalis Jct. to run around their train.  We roared by their light power move at a good 79 mph.

The remainder of the northbound trip was uneventful.  We met one more southbound before our 15 minute last arrival into Tacoma.

My southbound trip departed Tacoma Saturday afternoon at 3:03 PM.  The fun part about catching 507 at Tacoma is the fact that 506 does their station stop about 10 minutes before hand so you have a chance to see another train before you hop on.  We departed on time and ran main 2 all the way to Ruston.  South of Nelson Bennett we really rolled slowing only for the slow orders through the various communities.  My observation of this part of the trip is if you are a Cascade engineer you have to not be afraid of using the brakes.  Our hogger on the southbound trip was sure using them in advance of speed changes.  In fact as we slowed from 70 to 40 at West Tacoma (bridge 14) he smoked ’em good enough I could smell hot brake shoes in the train!


 Passing the Tacoma Narrows bridge between Nelson Bennett and Titlow.

South of Steilacoom we started to slow again.  Looking at ATCS the only other train around was a northbound out of Centralia so I didn’t think we were crossing over at Nisqually.  Just before we stopped on the overpass over I-5 the conductor informed us there were signal issues and we’d be taking switches in hand.  Seconds later he and the assistant conductor raced to the front of the train with their radios blaring instructions from the dispatcher to pass the stop indication at Nisqually.  We messed around Nisqually for 10 minutes hand lining switches and getting everyone back aboard.  Of course south of Nisqually we had and additional 2 miles of restricted speed until we came across a clear signal.

Near Plumb we met a northbound UP stack train at speed.  We used both the CP 31 and CP 32 crossovers around the Olympia-Lacey depot to get us on the correct side for our station work.  Nothing like using a 50 mph crossover!

Thanks to our delay at Nisqually we crossed over to 2 at Wabash then waited 3 or 4 minutes for 516 to finish their station stop at Centralia.  Had we been on time it would have been a much smoother meet.  We returned back to 1 at Centralia South and were once again back up to speed all the way to Ostrander where we crossed over to main 2 for our Kelso station work and to pass a train working at Longview.  The Starlight waited for us Longview Jct. South.

The rest of the trip into Vancouver was uneventful.  We did crossover at the 10mph crossover in Vancouver.  I’ll say that really seems slow when compared to smoothly blowing through the CP 31/32 crossovers at 50!  Our arrival time was about 20 minutes behind.

I really had a great trip.  The onboard crews were fabulous, friendly, and informative.  Despite the fact they do that job day in and day out they made everyone feel like they were important and valuable.  After all they could be quite cynical about repeating the same things over and over every day.  The e-ticket system was awesome.  I purchased my tickets online and they automatically synched to the Amtrak app on my phone.  I show the AC my phone and they scanned the bar code right there.  Simple with no wasted paper.  The onboard wi-fi never really worked for me.  It was so slow that using my 3G service was much more reliable.  There were of course places without 3G service but that was hardly Amtrak’s issue.   No matter I used my phone when I had signal and enjoyed looking out the window the rest of the time.



Hold On

We are struggling mightily to get out of winter in the Northwest.  It snowed yesterday in Vancouver as well as out at the ocean.  For the Oregon beaches it was the first March snow storm since 1966!  The consequence of this slow transition is we haven’t had nice days or even showers and sun breaks which are typical for this time of year.

An empty coal train is about to enter Tunnel 1.5 near North Bonneville, Wa.  A winter snow storm has left a dusting on the ground throughout the Columbia River Gorge.

I can feel my photographer self suffering from the lack of interesting light.  I’ve wanted several times to run out and photograph but the gray just isn’t motivating.  I have a few images in mind but really a clear or partly cloudy day would suit them better than the rain and gray skies.  Things are bad enough that a couple of days ago I found myself photographing the trees blowing in the wind because that was the most interesting thing happening.   Don’t get me wrong, I like photographing that stuff but I’m in the mood for real light soon!

A change in the weather will come.  It always does. In the mean time I continue to share my snowy gray day images because winter still has a hold on us.

In The Cascades

When you drive up the Columbia River Gorge on the highway it is really tough to tell sometimes that you are passing through a pretty major mountain range.  The mountains are certainly there but they tower above so high that it isn’t really obvious what is going on.  If you drive I-84 and look across at Washington the mountains are not as abrupt or as steep as on the Oregon side so you have the illusion that you are passing through a gentle valley.   That’s far from the truth.

I love to find places where the river is fairly narrow and you can easily photograph across it.  Moffett Creek below Bonneville dam is one of the places where that is possible.  With fresh snow on the mountains and the rocky terrain I knew I wanted to visit here and capture a Union Pacific train crossing the bridge.   UP set me up with two trains for this so I took advantage.

What is hard to see in this image is how tall the mountain in the background really is.  The river is around 40′ above sea level and Wauneka Point tops out at over 2800′ (according to mytopo.com)!   This image is actually a panorama shot vertically at 51mm and from what I can tell I’m only showing about 1/3 of the mountain.  Impressive to be in the Cascades.

Snow in June

The Northwest experienced some late snows and unusually cool temperatures (not cold temperatures) this spring.  The result is snow remains in the mountains in places it usually disappears from in May.  As part of my Pengra Pass adventure I wanted to hang around tunnel 6 (North Cruzatte)  a bit.  That wasn’t going to happen this time unless I hiked in thanks to a 2′ deep drift blocking the forest road to the tunnel.  Sure I had 4 wheel drive and a shovel but I really didn’t want to spend the time clearing the road.  Plus a bit of hiking showed me that the drift right off FR 5884 was not the only battle I’d have to fight.

In this photograph of brand new UMAX containers on the I-PDCIR (Portland, City of Industry Repo train) at South Cruzatte the snow still shows through the trees on Judd Mountain.  What you can’t see is all other drifts tucked around under the trees.  There’s plenty of melting yet to come in the Cascades.

This will be my last post on the Oregon Cascades for a bit.  On to Providence Hill….

Frazier Slide

On a dark, cold January night in 2008 a northbound train at Pryor, Or. received a call from UP dispatcher 68.  The dispatcher was inquiring as to what might cause an occupancy to come in behind them between Wicopee and Heather.  The crew noted no issues but the dispatcher still had issues between Heather and South Frazier.  A maintainer was called and as he high railed south from Heather he found mud across the tracks just north of Wicopee.  The decision was made at that point to evaluate the situation further in the morning.

Smart move.

What they found the next morning was that the hill side above north Frazier had slid taking the mainline and a significant portion of Coyote mountain down toward Salt Creek at the bottom.  Trees, mud, rocks, and anything else that was there was spread over nearly 3/4 of a mile from top to bottom.  It was estimated that the mainline would be out for weeks.

Looking down toward the lower track

On my visit in 2009 all the gates to Frazier and Wicopee were closed and locked.  This year they were not so I took the opportunity to explore the slide a bit.  One interesting view point is to take FR 5448-401 north from 5448 (road to Cruzatte).  This road crosses the path of the slide about 3/4 of the way down from the top and about 1/4 of a mile above the lower track.  It is fascinating to see just how much material was deposited here.  Trees, mud, rocks and whatever else litters the opening in the trees above the track.

Looking up toward the upper track

There were three paths down the side of the mountain, each in a stream bed.  The Coyote Creek path was the most interesting as it was quite narrow and deep.  I can only imagine what the the slurry of debris looked like squirting through this gap.  Awesome I’m sure. Being anywhere near this spot that dark, wet night in January would have been more than daunting.

**In March and April 2008, while the UP was recovering from the slide, I made few trips to the Oregon Trunk to see the detours.  Here are the posts from those trips: Detouring on the Trunk Detouring on the Trunk – Madras Bound