Central Montana Good News

A pair of CMR GP-9s lay over in Denton.

Just in time for my weekend train ride on the Central Montana Railroad they have some great news to share!  They will be receiving a $4 Million grant to repair flood damage from the 2011 floods. This should allow them to restore their previous service levels to the region.  How the Moccasin Agri-Hub and end of the BNSF subsidy payments will impact the railroad’s future is not clear.  I believe good marketing and partnerships with BNSF will mitigate those items.  For now though it appears they will be able to run trains again on this former Milwaukee Road line!

Trouble on the Judith

I’m sure after my visit to Denton this weekend I’ll have a clearer understanding of what the future will bring and how soon this trestle will again see rail traffic.

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.




Constant change is the rule in Vancouver.  Last week when I visited the depot looking down the alley next to the Great Western Malting elevator was nearly impossible.  The scrapper near the depot had piles of scrap and equipment which blocked the view.  The next week rail cars blocked the way.  This week construction had moved moved the scrap out of away so for the first time in several years I was able to capture an image of Great Western’s plant switcher.

The Port of Vancouver renewed the track recently so concrete ties, fresh ballast. and a renewed surface now replace the track which previously was pretty rough.  A new set of automatic switches with switch indicators control the crossover between the tracks.   Instead of just 6 cars they now pull 12 to dump.   All good changes to improve the flow of business.

The fact remains though that the building structures still tower over the trains here.  Despite all of the changes, the trains remain diminutive.

I’ve been away from blogging for a bit.  Over the last month or so I’ve worked on several personal photography projects and have just taken a break.  As time permits and my projects wrap up I will certainly be posting again.

Trains and Flowers

It amazes me every time I arrive in the dry, arid portions of the Columbia River Gorge and find flowers.  My mind always associates flowers with more moist conditions.  How wrong my mind is!

When I visited Maryhill in mid-May the Arrowleaf buckwheat and the various balamroots were in full bloom.  I spent the day hanging out with friends at this curve west of Maryhill and with the variety of rail traffic I was able to capture several of the flowers along with the train traffic.  Since these flowers are such a stark contrast to the sagebrush and usual vegetation out here I couldn’t resist.

My favorite from this cloudy day, is this image of a westbound coal train passing through the rocks west of Maryhill.  Not only is there a wonderful flower in the foreground but the rock cut is peppered with even more!

Gorgeous Day In The Gorge

I feel like I sound like a broken record because I’m starting another post with “another trip to the Gorge”.  I guess I shouldn’t whine too much because not everyone can easily visit such a wonderful place on a regular basis.  I should feel proud to be able to start off another post with “another trip to the Gorge”, right?

Sunday’s trip to the fabulous Columbia River Gorge was an opportunity to hang out with a friend visiting from Wisconsin.  Scott previously lived in Oregon so he wanted to spend the day hanging out in one his favorite places.   With sunrise scheduled for 5:18 we decided to leave Scott’s hotel at 5 and find some trains in the morning sun.

Our first stop coincided with the eastbound morning Z train making a meet with a grain train at Cooks.  This location was right on the eastern edge of the morning low clouds hanging around the west side of the mountains.  In the minutes before the Z train’s arrival the scene migrated from full sun to cloudy.  Of course just before the train arrived the sun disappeared altogether.   Thankfully the sun came back just enough to highlight the subject and give me this wonderful photo.

Throughout the rest of the day we visited Rowland Lake, West North Dalles, MP 99 on the UP, the Lyle rest area and associated rock out croppings,  the rock spires at MP 81.5 on the BNSF, and finally Rowland Lake again.  In the middle of the day we stopped in for a nice lunch in The Dalles and relaxed while the trains took a break and the sunlight was less than optimal.  The middle part of the day had plenty of lulls so we engaged one another in interesting conversations ranging the gamut of rail related topics as well as technology, science, and some politics.

Near the end of the day we found ourselves at Rowland Lake again.  BNSF lined up 2 trains to head right into the sun so we found our various locations around the lake for photographs.  I chose to capture this photo of the evening Z train between the Oak trees.  Now, before you say “wow, you had great luck with the barge and tow boat Steve”, understand this is a composite photo.  The barge passed through the scene about 9 minutes prior to the Z train.  I felt the combination depicts what actually happens quite frequently on the Columbia River so I chose to put the two images together.

That’s it for this Gorge visit.  Someone else approached me about a July or August trip so it looks like “another trip to the Gorge” is in store!