Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Velocity = Profit

That's what a crew supervisor told me one morning early as I watched an SP unit pass the parked BNSF that was waiting for the crew he'd just dropped off. They were there to pick up five gangs worth of repair equipment, and the fog that morning was thick as fleas on an old hound.

You'll notice the ongoing theme here is repairs and fog. *s*

Union Pacific has been doing a lot of maintenance here of late, which has kept me from doing a lot of spotting. The traffic, you see, has been at a bare minimum; whole days have gone by without a single bit of traffic except for repair equipment. I was out one morning toward the end of the repair cycle and happened to start chatting with the crew super, a really nice guy indeed.* He told me that there were a total of five crews working at the same time on the same two stretches of road--the section around Alexandria leading to Rodemacher's coal-fired power plant and the section of road around Shreveport, a major hub for shipping out cars filled with quarried rock.

The immense weight of these trains, he told me, was responsible for a heavy deterioration of the tracks, so this massive effort was required to upgrade the ties, the substrate, crossings, everything but the rails. The speed limit, he told me, was down to an average of 20mph for these two areas, and "velocity equals profit." If the trains can't go fast then the money is held up. The crews working were costing Union Pacific, he told me, one hundred thousand dollars. A day.

Big money.

But now the ties are fresh, the rails are at the proper geometry, and the speed limit is up, up, up! Which makes it tough to catch trains, I can tell you.

This is one of the coal trains headed to Rodemacher. I'm pleased to report that the shipments, which I'm told come from coal fields as far north as Wyoming, are now passing through CP Mallin in Pineville and northwest into Boyce, where they used to pass through Shreveport to Rodemacher, then the empties would cross Alexandria and into Pineville via Mallin, thence back to Wyoming for a refill. This way, I get to see the fulls!

This SD90MAC surprised me, it's the first one I've seen in many months out here, and it's strange, hunchbacked look is always an odd, surprising sight.

Then there was this afternoon. Five o'clock came around, and I heard a train the crossing. I clocked out, meandered to the parking lot and saw...a stack train. Again, VERY unusual for this area and these tracks, but what with the repairs in place...voila! Heavier trains can now move faster through this area. Which this engineer was doing.

Three units up front, I've no idea what the numbers were because, well, I was being foolish. In several ways.

First, I'd forgotten the new speed limit, "fast" and the new mantra "velocity equals profit." While he passed the Rapides Station Road crossing at a meager 10 mph (I'm guessing the xing still needs some work to make it fully functional at speed) he goosed that 15,000 horsepower triad he had control over and by the time he'd reached Boyce he was doing a good 50.

Me, for my part, thought I'd do something a little different. Instead of taking the 'same old same old' shot (see the coal train above and some five or six other near-identical setups I've taken) I decided to be unique. I decided I'd park at the Boyce Post Office right alongside the Colfax exit overpass, hare it up the embankment and along the road, position myself over the rails and have a gorgeous (if not a little grey) shot of the entire stack train, spread out some two miles along a straight strip.

Remember our old friend velocity?

By the time I'd made it to the top of the embankment the UP was already signaling his long-long-short-long at the gin's crossing at the corp limit of Boyce and was pouring on the speed. I nearly fell into oncoming traffic after finding out that the guard rail was about two inches taller than my highest comfortable step, and then I realised just how FAR UP that ramp was.

End result being, I was about fifty feet and fifteen seconds short of getting my shot. What I did get was three blurry shots of trees and a patch of yellow and some concrete. And, as you can see, some shots of him moving away through Boyce at a very quick clip.

I think in that shot the engine is just about where I'd be standing if I'd just gone on into Boyce to the 'usual' spot and parked. *g*

Lesson learned? Sometimes you just can't get the good shot no matter how hard you try, but it's of paramount importance to keep your quarry's speed in mind. Objects in mirror can be traveling faster than they appear.

The upside? It's Spring again (check out all that green grass) and with freshly repaired tracks I've been seeing a LOT more traffic on the road, so that means more opportunity to spot, more opportunity to learn how to hare up that embankment and possibly very soon here a long-shot from the overpass of a full coaler or a stack train.

Hope springs eternal!
* Whenever possible, talk to crewmembers when you see them. You'd be surprised how welcome a new face is to most of them. I've been given more information about train operations and been invited into more cabs than I would have ever imagined, simply by being friendly and visible.

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