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Rich Duncan talked me into spending an evening track-side, which we did on Wednesday, 20 May, 2015. We started on the soon-to-be-retired BNSF Main Track Three between South Haslet and Lambert and ended up at the recent derailment site of train Z-WSPALT8-06 in Valley View, Texas. Though the evening was fairly cloudy, we tied-up up with some great shots!
H-TULTPL9-19 at Haslet
The first train we came across was BNSF Tulsa, OK to Temple, TX train H-TULTPL9-19. This train was stopped at the Firehouse Crossing on Main 3 where it had just changed crews. The 12th car on the train was of particular interest. It was flatcar BNSF 592511 loaded with a locomotive under tarp en-route to the port of Houston for export. The tarp was labeled "NRE Locomotive" with the number 9612 over the cab. The blue-and-yellow pilots were all that was visible of the paint scheme.
This locomotive is one of 20 former Santa Fe GE B23-7 locomotives being rebuilt with 3-axle trucks and small fuel tanks for East African Rift Valley Railways which operates in Kenya and Uganda. It is fitting that this trip would take the locomotive over the former Santa Fe rails it once called home! These units are being rebuilt by National Railway Equipment and are identified as C23-7's.
Amtrak No. 821 at GE
Next it was off to the new GE Locomotive Factory to set up for some shots of a very tardy Amtrak train No. 821, the southbound Heartland Flyer. Two brand new BNSF ES44C4s were resting outside the GE Locomotive Factory--Nos. 8378 and 8380. These two locomotives had been tested on the mainline with BNSF "K-Crew" K-ALTALT1-20. This is a regular job that goes on duty at 0800 Monday through Friday to test and deliver new GE locomotives. After each test run the locomotives are returned to the GE Factory for final analysis and updates before being delivered for revenue service.
The BNSF Texas Division has seen some extreme weather recently, resulting in a blanket 40 MPH speed restriction. This combined with various other slow orders have made the environment unfavorable for the operation of passenger trains. On this day all of the passengers were detrained at Ardmore, Oklahoma and put into buses. The train seen here is operating equipment only and is about five hours late.
H-KCKTPL1-17 at Justin
We caught our next train just to the north of Lambert. Citirail ES44AC 1320 and BNSF ES44C4 7074 lead Kansas City, KS to Temple, TX manifest train H-KCKTPL1-17 through Justin on the BNSF Fort Worth Subdivision. This train's totals were 110 cars (52 loads and 58 empties), 8877 tons, 6849 feet including power, and ETD BNQ 47465. Sitting in the normally vacant house track was lunger TTZX 857078 which had suffered a draw-bar failure. I employed the little-used concrete loading dock for my vantage point for these shots.
Chasing Roadrailer Q-SAGKCK1-19 North From Lambert
When Rich asked where we should go for this evening's field trip, I suggested that we make it a point to photograph the northbound Roadrailer train which was called out of Saginaw, TX for 1330-CT-20. This train running with symbol Q-SAGKCK1-19 (yes originating with a day-old symbol) was held in the West Pass at Saginaw to meet the H-TULTPL9-19 and the very late Amtrak No. 821. As this was still playing out after we shot the H-KCKTPL1-17 at Justin we had a chance to grab a quick bite to eat and then strategize on where to shoot the Roadrailer.
We selected Lambert Junction where the old and new main track alignments come together north of Alliance. This train would be operating off the soon-to-be-severed Main Three. At Lambert the under-construction new Main One can be seen right in front of Main Two--both tracks sweeping to the west away from the original alignment. A new connection from the old main around what will become the "New" Control Point at Lambert is also under construction. This connection will be used to allow access to the GE Locomotive factory.
Train Q-SAGKCK1-19 would sport four locomotives today, the third being NS 9250 wearing a special Operation Lifesaver paint scheme. In tow were 116 Triple Crown Roadrailer Trailers on bogies.
The many speed restrictions in effect made this train an easy chase. After photographing the train at Lambert, we were able to get shots at Ponder, Krum, and South of Metro. We would again photograph the train at Valley View as it eased by the recent derailment site.
V-KCKPEA1-17 at Rector Road
Our Roadrailer was set up to meet a southbound train at Metro siding. This train would be southbound Kansas City, Kansas to Pearland, TX (Houston area) vehicle train V-KCKPEA1-17 with C44-9W 4754 and ES44AC 5944 leading 80 loaded autoracks. We set up in the curve at the Rector Road crossing just north of Metro for the shot.
There was a "Road Closed" barricade on Rector Road just east of the grade crossing, so naturally we went that way after shooting the V-KCKPEA1-17! This road is the long way to the next town which is Sanger, TX. There were four locations where flood waters from the recent storms was flowing freely over Rector Road. At the time of our passing it was shallow enough for us to safely drive through.
Having traveled this far it occurred to us that the site of the recent derailment of train Z-WSPALT8-06 was not far away. With train speed being very slow today, we decided to head to the derailment site to see what we could see.
Z-WSPALT8-06 Derailment Site - Valley View, TX
Our last photo location for the day was a very surreal scene indeed. In the very early morning hours of May 8, 2015 a severe weather event drenched North Texas. The BNSF Fort Worth Subdivision between Gainesville and Justin was directly in the storm's path. Train Z-WSPALT8-06 had stopped at the south end of Valley View that night to pick up the crew off a southbound Roadrailer train to take them to Alliance. After picking up this crew, train Z-WSPALT8-06 continued on its journey to Alliance, but it did not get far at all. Flood waters were swift and severe, compromising the roadbed that the main track rested on. In less than a single train-length, the journey for the Z-WSPALT8-06 would come to a sudden and tragic end. All four of the locomotives and the head 17 intermodal wells/platforms derailed in a pile.
All four employees (the two-man crew of the Z-WSPALT8-06 and the two-man crew picked up off the Roadrailer) were injured, though non-critically, and were hospitalized for treatment. This location was on a fill and did not have immediate road access, so site recovery took several days.
Tragically and coincidentally, very near the location of this derailment, BNSF Conductor Brandon Henegar was dealt a fatal blow by this storm. He had accepted a call to work that night. While trying to travel from his home in Gainesville to the Yard Office at Alliance, his personal vehicle was swept off the road by the flash flood that caused Spring Creek to rage. Brandon was found deceased in his vehicle late that morning. The button below will take you to local news coverage of this storm event:
Our visit this evening was twelve days after the incident had occurred. Many of the containers and derailed rail cars had been cut up and shipped off. The main line was back in service with much new rock in place, though the repairs still in progress and track speed just 25 MPH. All four locomotives remained on scene, upright and dragged a hundred feet-or-so away from the rail. They were damaged much more so than I had anticipated. After all in the media images, two of the locomotives were completely buried by cars so the damage could not be seen.
But on this evening, the locomotives could be seen. Very eerily looming over the muddy, scarred, and dangerous landscape. Only two contractors were on hand, using heavy equipment to tear apart the well of a Trailer Train stack car. We got shots of our Roadrailer and a southbound Z-Train passing the scene. Two very supportive Valley View police officers also made a presence. Their world had been turned upside-down by the events of the storm as well. After a pleasant conversation it was time to head home. I would need to report for duty at 0630 the next morning. My job as train dispatcher for this territory would be waiting for my arrival.