Friday, June 22, 2007

TPW/TZPR/UP/BNSF trip, May 26, 2007, part 1

Three or four times a year, I make a pilgrimage to one of my favorite photo locations of the upper Midwest, Houlihan's Curve on the BNSF Chillicothe Sub. Historically part of the ATSF mainline from Chicago to Los Angeles, the combination of curvature and elevation was constructed to lift the mainline from the Illinois River valley up to the prairie dividing the watersheds of the Illinois and Rock Rivers.

On the way there, after a flogging of a stretch of state highway in Starved Rock state park with the MR2, I visited the Peoria area, hitting a few of the railroad high points there.

I started at the TP&W East Peoria yard and shop. A part of a larger shortline group, a switcher borrowed from sister road Indiana and Ohio was parked next to some home road power.

Nearby is the home of the Tazewell & Peoria, in Creve Coeur. Formerly the Peoria & Pekin Union, it is named after the counties in which it operates, and serves as a terminal road for much of the area's industry, much of which consists of traffic to/from the plants of Caterpillar (as seen below).

The Chicago Northwestern passed through the area to access St. Louis, with a route which diverges from their mainline at Nelson, IL and runs down toward Springfield. Its yard and engine facilities were located at South Pekin. Not much is left 12 years after the Union Pacific takeover at the location about 10 minutes south of Peoria, but my usual timing was good again, and I found the MPRPB (manifest from Proviso to Pine Bluff, Arkansas) awaiting a crew change at the south end of the yard.

After passing the ethanol plant in Pekin, the generating plants at Powerton and across the river from Pekin, and a visit to the curves of Kickapoo Creek Road in Bartonville, I made for my lunch stop in Chillicothe, following the west bank of the IL river. The Iowa Interstate's Peoria branch follows state highway 29 from its namesake city up to a junction with the IAIS (former Rock Island) main line at Bureau, and their daily train was notable by its absence.
Duly fortified with sustenance from Hardees and Kroger, I took up my position at the Curve just west of town. The weather has been better than that day on previous trips, but it was my challenge to make the figurative lemonade.
Operationally, the Curve is around milepost 134 of the Chillicothe Sub, with hotbox detectors on 160.650 MHz at MP 125 and MP 132.4 on both main 1 and main 2, allowing 6-10 minutes' warning for westbounds climbing the hill. The next hotbox detector west is over the crest of the hill, and (for at least my radio) is inaudible, meaning eastbounds are only announced by their screaming dynamic brake fans and the low rumble of their prime movers.
Settling in about the usual 13:45, three eastbound trains (two manifests and a NS-runthrough stacker) preceded the first westbound, which showed at 15:05 with a 308-axle high-priority train comprised of head=end domestic stacks, and the balance filled out with vans on flats.

Following a van train which included UPS traffic, the next westbound appeared in the freshening showers at 15:31, with 312 axles of auto racks led by a trio of BNSF-paint GEs (567-7710-7731).

Following close behind at 15:43, NS-interchange international stacks rolled by with a total of 216 axles.

After an eastbound stacker (China Shipping boxes, led by 3 BNSF GEs), the daily UP autorack run-through appeared at 15:58 (3 SD70s, 312 axles).

Next on the docket was another westbound stacker at 16:15, with 332 axles of international boxes led by 3 GEs and an SD40-2 (5396-4179-7609-6720).

Another hit the westbound detector shortly after, and as I waited in the rain, I grabbed a shot of my beast of burden for the day.

NS manifest interchange waappeared at 16:31, 272 axles in all.

As the line of thundershowers came through, I set one of the receive channels in the radio to the local weather spotter net, in case I had to contribute. Three more eastbounds came by (racks, Hanjin stacks, manifest) in the next almost two hours of heavy weather before I caught what I promised myself would be the last westbound before I moved up the hill to Edelstein.
At 18:14, a DPU stacker came through, with BNSF4631-BNSF799 on the head end, and NS 9828-BNSF7657 on the tail end, totalling 348 axles.

After 2 inches of rain, I moved up the hill. Details on the balance of the day in part 2.

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