Saturday, May 29, 2010

Amtrak #6, East:

Here, Amtrak #6 east, on the current California Zephyr route, has passed Gold Run and is upon the lower Dutch Flat crossing. The current Amtrak Zephyr runs two trains daily (one east, uphill over the Donner Pass -- and one west, downhill from Donner) between Emeryville, California and Chicago, Illinois.

The westbound Zephyr is known as Amtrak #5, and the eastbound Zephyr is Amtrak #6.

Amtrak is actually the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a for-profit corporation created by the US Congress in 1970 and incorporated into DC in 1971.

Amtrak makes little money on its own, with the exception of the so-called Northeast Corridor -- the busiest rail line in all the US -- predominantly to and from Washinton to Boston, and including Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, New York, New Haven, and Providence. It also has branches connecting Philadelphia with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (known as the Keystone Corridor); New Haven with Springfield, Massachusetts (known as the New Haven–Springfield Line); New York City with Niagara Falls, New York (known as the Empire Corridor), and several other commuter destinations. The busiest passenger rail station in the United States is Pennsylvania Station in New York, the central hub of the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak and its subsidiaries is largely funded by the federal government. Other smaller and localized lines -- including those in California -- are co-funded by local governments as well.

If not, however, for federal funding then Amtrak would have perished on the vine quite some time ago.

Amtrak's service site is here, if you wish to book trips or tickets.

Amtrak, as I have observed over the years, is spotty and "hit and miss" at best.

Yes, I must admit, there have been a consistent two Zephyrs per day; one east, one west. But if you expect the Zephyr to be on time and conform to its timetable, then -- ahem -- perhaps you'd best adjust your personal schedule. I have found that the CZ can run from a half hour early to -- mostly -- up to two hours late in Colfax and Truckee (in California). I make this comment not in terms of theory but in terms of direct observation. I live in the mountains, directly on the route.

In the early 2000s, their Amtrak Express freight service was huge. This was clearly an attempt by Amtrak to take whatever time-sensitive freight traffic it could away from Donner Pass owner Union Pacific -- itself still recovering from the transition from Southern Pacific to UP. This was an attempt to steal as much LTL (less-than-truckload) business as possible.

It was nothing, in the early 2000s, to see three GE passenger locos pulling a medium-sized passenger train attached to a minimum of five to eight freight cars at the end -- and perhaps a roadrailer or two.

Those days have quite passed. Most of that business was lost in 2004.

Now, Amtrak equipment is beaten, battered, bruised, rumpled, dented and fading. Even during a Democrat administration -- the most favorable possible in DC for Amtrak -- little has changed.

Ridership for a time was up for the Zephyr, just prior to the current economic bust.

These days, the locomotives on point show their road scars, as do the baggage cars and double-level passenger cars.

Here, Amtrak # 15, in the newest Amtrak paint scheme, is a GE Dash9-P42B sporting 4,200 hp and manufactured by General Electric in 1996. Twenty such units were purchased by Amtrak.

The Dash9-P42B is a diesel-electric DC-driven traction motor unit -- part of the GE Genesis series of locomotives built in response to Amtrak specs for passenger power. This locomotive meets every clearance requirement by Amtrak on every Amtrak route.

If you ever hear a series of Amtrak GE P-42s approach for a station stop, you'll notice that, unlike freight locomotives at a stop, they maintain a minimum level of rpm's. That's to ensure that the HEP (head end power) supplies continuous electrical power to the trailing passenger cars for HVAC, cooking and accessories.

In second place, elephant-style, is GE Dash9-P42B #67, manufactured in 1997, also with 4,200 hp, one of 100 purchased by Amtrak.

Following is a baggage car, with Superliner II Transition Sleeper Car #39011 next in line.


The "X" in the photos, by the way, is called a "whistle board." It is there that the engineer should begin sounding the horn for upcoming crossings.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In The Cab

In my world, I always wondered what happened in the cab of a locomotive (very nice Canadian cab website here!).

And this is, in my estimation, the most neglected portion of railroading and its documentation.

You can see and read and find hundreds and thousands of books and blogs and magazines and videos on trains and trains and trains and some locomotives.

But you can't find much about what happens in the cab of a locomotive.

I've solved that. And I plan to make this slightly more obvious in future posts, as limited as my exposure may be.

Above, I am in the engineer's seat of an older SD40-2 EMD unit waiting for the eastbound signal at Switch 9. The engineer was kind enough to take the photograph.

Since then, I have been given numerous cab rides up and down Donner Pass. And I've taken numerous photos from this perspective. I also found out much about the working conditions of those men and women inside Southern Pacific and then Union Pacific cabs. I was even given the opportunity, on more than a few occasions, shall we say, to operate a train from the engineer's seat. And then was complimented on my train-handling skills.

Of course, in today's environment, that will never happen again.

Many of my photographs are in 35mm and not digital. I will have to scan many of these photographs.

For those engineers and conductors, male and female, who accommodated me in these photographs, obviously, I shall not reveal your names, backgrounds, times, or any information which could even remotely place you in any kind of jeopardy.

There are more "on site" cab shots coming, readers.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Another Train Meet!

So there I was, waiting for a downhill train I'd heard some miles away. On point was UP 7355, a General Electric C45ACCTE with 4,400 hp built in 2009. Beautiful, bright colors with, undoubtedly, a nice, clean, cab interior. I had no scanner at the time, so I missed the detector at MP148.9 indicating a train was coming uphill.

A beautiful double-stack, heading west in May -- downhill, towards Secret Town. Traffic in the area, to and from Roseville, has been spotty at best. Recently, more trains have been running at night than during the day. Types of trains seem to be evenly split between double stack and mixed manifest.
The sun was with me on the next two photos, pointing east. Late afternoon sun on double-stack well cars. The red containers really stand out in sharp contrast to the green trees and blue skies.
The passing of these cars sucked the hat right off my head -- luckily it didn't flip under the wheels and I was able to recover it later.
And then, a horn off to my right! I had to focus quickly and hope for a gap in the cars -- which there was! UP 5569 on point slugged uphill -- a General Electric C44ACCTE with 4,390 hp built in 2004. I caught it! Another train meet -- very tough to capture!
UP 5569 downhill, and UP 7355 uphill. Both are GE locomotives. In the #2 position uphill (eastbound) behind UP 5569 is UP 4434, an EMD SD70M (one of 1,083 owned by Union Pacific!) built between 2000 and 2004 and possessing 4,000 hp. Behind UP 4434 is an EMD SD90MAC with the 4,300 hp engine (clue: no beveled engine room cover), its number obscured.
Double stack downhill, a mixed manifest train (called a "pig") uphill. "Pigs" receive the last priority for traffic on UP lines.
UP 7733, a DPU (Distributed Power Unit), runs in dynamic braking at the rear of the downhill train. DPUs are unmanned, and controlled from the cab of the engine on point, via Locotrol, by the engineer. UP 7733 is a GE C45ACCTE (AC powered traction motors with "Controlled Tractive Effort") sporting 4,400 hp and built between 2007 and 2008.

Pushing uphill (eastbound) are DPUs UP 5646 -- a GE C44ACCTE with 4,390 hp built in 2004 and, at the very end, UP 5554 -- another identical GE C44ACCTE with 4,390 hp, also built in 2004. [Click on each photo to enlarge, suitable for desktops. If you use my photographs, please attribute.]