Thursday, October 30, 2014

POTD - Classic Film

They say film is dead. Tell that to Chris May. A loaned camera, a roll of Tri-X film (Kodak black and white) and some time at Union Station with Amtrak's California Zephyr produced an opportunity to capture an image that feels timeless. "Union Station: Travel By Train." How many couples have stood on Union Station's platforms, Pullman coaches, engines and fellow passengers buzzing about them?◊

Union Station Couple
Photo of the Day: Chris May

Friday, October 17, 2014

POTD - Morning Sunlight Warming a BNSF Warbonnet

I've been following a photographer posting under the the name of "BUFFIE" for some time now. Their specialization is in industrial Denver's yards, so the scenic quality is harder to quantify, but today's photo is clearly a well thought-out effort. Here's a warm welcome and congratulations on making Photo Of the Day for the first time!

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=502329
Photo of the Day: BUFFIE
When Santa Fe revived the Warbonnet scheme in the early 1990s, the result couldn't have been more positive. The now-standard full-width nose of the cab strongly resembles the EMD full cowl body that so iconically represented the railroad during the zenith of its passenger service and the hood portion retains the "blue bonnet" feel from its more recent past in terms of shape and lettering. After the BNSF merger, the eventual decision was made to switch to a new combined paint scheme that reflected the "northern heritage" of BN as well as the Santa Fe, now known as Heritage 2.

Only last Monday (the 13th), BNSF 755 wears her colors as proudly as possible, while her bolsterless trucks and undercarriage rust more closely resembles the earth around her than the fine silver that matched her flanks. The GE Dash 9-44CW has just now received the full morning light of the sun to warm up with, while a puddle reflects the red, yellow, and silver that used to roam in far greater numbers--not once, but twice!--under the blue skies of America's vast southwest.◊

Monday, October 13, 2014

POTD - Snowy Rails in Middle Park Wash the CZ in Wintry Wonder

Amtrak killed the Ski Train in a blatant fratricide. So why is it still the subject of a Photo of the Day award, especially in a place its victim once called home? Because art and reality can be separated at times and because it can be unprofessional to let a grudge get in the way of artistic triumph.

Amtrak in the snow - Colorado
Photo of the Day: Steve Brown (sjb4photos), Amtrak in the snow - Colorado 
Amtrak Train No. 5, the California Zephyr, makes its way through Middle Park approaching Fraser, Colorado in March 2003. It is presently four hours late due to the recent snow storm and when it leaves Frasier, it will be seven hours late due to freight congestion on the Union Pacific's Moffat Route brought on by the same storm. Not the worst delays ever seen by Amtrak, but it certainly doesn't help Amtrak's sorry reputation for poor timetable performance.1,2,3 That may have been why a grinchy Amtrak never could abide the Ski Train service from Denver to Winter Park and back that was seldom if ever so late.◊

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friends Video Shows Rare Mudhen In Its Natural Environment

On June 21st of this year, the Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad put together a video of a double header between Chama and Los Pinos. The Friends all-volunteer organization helps preserve the historic elements of the part of the  Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad's narrow gauge San Juan Extension that the C&TS operates. They paint. A lot. But that's part of what preservation is. They also do a lot of restoration that would otherwise lay undone.



Incidentally, I may be hearing things, but it sounds like someone is being a bit stingy with the sand or a bit too generous with the steam. Several times as the train climbs out of Chama, mudhen 463 spins her drivers. This is not all that good for the machinery or the rails. Working the throttle with a sensitive touch can keep the engine delivering the maximum energy to the rail.◊

Bob Craine, Director of Friends of the C&TS, Passed Away Suddenly Sept 21

On a side note, there is some sad news from the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Apparently, the Director of the Friends organization suddenly passed away last month. According to the Friends' announcement, Bob Craine suffered a massive heart attack on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma that evening. He was 66 years old.

My prayers are with his wife, Debbie, as she grieves her loss. To me, it is a higher compliment  Mr. Craine's tribute page shows that he was a good man who affected other lives for the better.◊

Monday, October 6, 2014

POTD - Pumpkins Under a Wicked Sky

Note from Steve: this marks the 600th post to Colorado Railroads!
Photo of the Day: Kevin Morgan
How could POTD not lead off with a Pumpkin shot? It's October! And early fall is no time to let your guard down with respect to bad weather Last year proved that well and good. A westbound BNSF manifest is stopped at Leyden on the Moffat Route in front of an eastern horizon with a color that might just give you shivers if you were heading that way.

Speaking of color, even if it wasn't power-short BNSF providing no shortage of color (orange predominantly), it still would be a profoundly colorful shot. Dark blue, gold, white, red, green, and all are mirrored in the train itself! Manifests, pumpkins and dark skies. Worthy, indeed!

On a side note, Kevin Morgan says about this train,
The westbound BNSF manifest was stopped on the main at Leyden because the head end had lost its comm link with the rear DPU. The conductor walked back to the DPU to try to get the link to re-establish. It was determined that the comm radio on the lead unit was broken, so a new unit had to come out of Denver to rescue the train.
Those darn GEs!  You'd almost forget that at one time GE made radios.◊

Friday, October 3, 2014

Know Your Union Pacific EMD Locomotives

There's something about being able to identify a locomotive. Perhaps being able to identify something allows a person to connect with the subject. This was a big deal in the days of steam when spotting a specific engine class could tell you not only what railroad, but whether it was a brand new lighwogjtstreamliner or a thundering Pullman heavyweight behind her. Today, identifying diesel locomotives in main line service isn't always simple matter.

For a complete guide on identifying locomotives,
this is probably your best bet! Schraders / Library
On one hand, when I first started trying to figure out the make and model out on the Moffat Route and elsewhere, there were EMD locomotives and GE locomotives. I quickly figured out a fast rule of thumb: The GE's always seemed to have an exhaust on the roof, usually in the middle of the hood section. These days, the exhaust is even easier to spot. I just look for the fluted aluminum stack sticking up about a half-foot above everything else. If it's there, it's a GE loco rather than an EMD.

On the other hand, Identifying the model of a locomotive isn't as simple as a quick look. While it's relatively easy to tell the difference between a GE and an EMD locomotive, it's significantly more complex a task to determine the model.

This isn't a comprehensive guide. There are books like Greg McDonnell's 2008 guide that are much more researched. However, there is a fairly consistent means of identifying the two most popular, state-of-the-art models by EMD that are in use on the Union Pacific railroad (as well as BNSF). It involves examining the radiators.

A vertical comparison between different versions of EMDs SD70 locomotive as seen on the Union Pacific railroad
Click to enlarge. Photo collage by Alan Radecki (CC 2.5), Identification and graphics by Colorado Railroads
As you can see, the three different versions on top are all considered SD70Ms, and the fourth is the Tier 4 compliant SD70ACe. The 3 bottom locomotives all have flared radiators, but only the ACe's have space between the radiators and the end of the hood.

As late as 2004, EMD produced the previous version of the SD70s AC version, the SD70MAC, which might better explain the disparity in suffixes of the EMD model numbers.

Deciphering the EMD Model Numbers

SD stands for Special Duty because it was anticipated that this design would see only limited use as opposed to General Purpose (GP) road switchers. While GP locomotives have 4 axles, SD series have 6 axles, 3 per truck, with each axle powered independently. The notation for this by AAR standards is C-C. As far as it being Special Duty, EMD no longer produces any of the GP series.

70 indicates the place in the series. As a rule, EMD numbered SD series on the 5s, but skipping 55 and 65. Since SD70, EMD filled SD75 and then SD80 and SD90 series in short succession, but the latter 2 were non-starters with design shortfalls. The SD70, like the SD40, has built a reputation for reliability.

M was applied as a suffix applied to comfort or safety cabs when they were the option and not standard. When the SD70M was introduced, the standard cab was the short hood, low nose design from the early days of EMD locomotives. Today, the situation is reversed, with any company that wants one to specify the Spartan cab. So far, the Spartan has but few takers.

AC Initially, all diesel electrics functioned using Direct Current (DC) produced by a prime mover as two phase AC and then rectified to DC. Today's AC units change that DC electricity to three-phase AC. This solves some problems that have dogged DC diesel-electrics for years.

e eco-system friendly, specifically "EPA Tier-3 emissions certified" as EMD says on their site.

One last thing...

Incidentally, I've appreciated Union Pacific's long-standing choice of the American flag for the side of it's locomotives. Sure, it's not a big leap from the UP shield to the flag, but being an American (and especially a Coloradoan) is particularly important to me.◊

Monday, September 29, 2014

Drone Video For Railfans Raises Artform To Cinematographic Heights

Is it November already? No, but if you live on periodical publishing time like Trains magazine, it's close. November 2014 is Trains' technology issue, and they've reported on something I posited here last December: Photo/video shot via drone (page 7). Since then, I've seen them numerous times on geek blogs like Tested, but no one, to my knowledge, has sunk the money into the hobby and actually risked their robotic pride for elevation and for glory.

No one, except midwest-based Delay In Block productions and Evan Lofback of Knoxville, Tennessee, Trains reports. Rather than talk about how I envisioned the use of drones in railfan videos, I'd rather let Mr. Lofback show you exactly how good it can be. I've watched this quite a few times already and it's not getting old, even with diesels and eastern railroads!



So, now does it make sense?

If you're itching to try it, I can tell you that the first one to upload on YouTube a Colorado railroad video using a drone and notifies me or leaves the link in a comment on this post will have it appear as the first video highlighted on the sidebar on Colorado Railroads.* It will be up for at least a month. That's exposure! A narrow gauge and/or steam train video by drone would last longer, given the scenic and aesthetic value.

Evan Lofback has quite a few drone videos on his channel worth your time if you're interested.◊


* - content must meet basic standards. No bonus, bounty, payment, or other benefit (expressed or implied) will be given. No links to non-railroad related sites.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Narrow Gauge Rio Grande Mikado 491 Sees Blue Skies After A Pivotal Year

Rio Grande 491 rides the turntable Friday afternoon under a beautiful blue sky. With restoration still to be done, she nonetheless looks like she's ready for work. Heading for the Monarch branch, perhaps?
Photo: John Hill, contributing photographer for Colorado Railroads
Rio Grande narrow gauge steam locomotive 491, Colorado's most recently restored steamer is part of the vaunted K-37 class. They were perhaps the largest, heaviest, strongest class of narrow gauge Mikados ever to work a narrow gauge railroad, with the possible exception of a couple of articulateds on the Uintah.

Starting life in 1902 as a Baldwin-built standard gauge locomotive for the Rio Grande numbered 1026, she was converted along with 5 other classmates to 3-foot narrow gauge in 1928. Additionally, Burnham shop machinists took her from a 2-8-0 wheel arrangement (Consolidation) to a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement, known as Mikado. The innovators in Denver's Burnham shops had no way of knowing that their work would long outlast the thundering, Big Boy-like articulated engines of the 2-8-8-2 L-131 class that saw work in the very same shops!

Yet, some parts of 491 make her twice as unique an engine. Colorado Railroad Museum intern Benjamin Fearn explains in the museum's Iron Horse News, the firebox of 491 has thermic siphons installed inside. Such devices worked to take more of the energy from the combustion in the fire and pass it into the water of the boiler. As it does, convection draws more water into the siphon to pick up more energy. Conservation and efficiency were useful concepts at Burnham, just like most steam shops of their day.

So, if everything goes right, 491 could be 13 years away--as a narrow gauge engine--in what could be a career not measured in years, but in centuries. As my favorite engine at the museum, I can't wait to see the completed work!

The story of the restoration of 491 is available in the Iron Horse News and in the museum's Roundhouse News blog.◊

Special thanks to John Hill for the timely photograph!

Friday, September 19, 2014

POTD: Brawny Muscle At Mitchell On Tennessee Pass

Perhaps nowhere--at least not in the last 40 years--is the idea of railroading in Colorado more realized than Tennessee Pass. A former narrow gauge route surveyed as a way to reach the riches of Leadville's mines and supply them, punched through the summit with a tunnel bore and classic lopsided profile of 1.7% grade on one side and 3% on the other, Tennessee Pass runs right through the heart of the state and until the Union Pacific merger in 1996, served with distinction as the highest mainline in the nation.

Tennessee Pass at SP’s best
Photo of the Day: Mike Danneman
A whopping ten units on Tennessee Pass pull and shove their coal train up 3% grade at Mitchell, Colorado, September 5, 1995. With new AC4400CW and two manned helper sets, Mr. Danneman says, "This was Tennessee Pass at SP’s best!" It's hard to disagree, Mike.◊

PS: For those interested, Fred Frailey (one of the best) writes about the Long Autumn of Tennessee Pass in his blog at Trains magazine (2012).