Saturday, June 03, 2006

Railfanning Galesburg

When our younger son Nicholas was considering higher education, he decided to look beyond the typical Eastern-Ontario destinations of Carleton, Queen's, McGill, etc. and eventually chose a small liberal arts college located in Galesburg, IL. It's a really nice college located in a town of about 30000, set in the Midwestern prairie. The main drawback is that it's a two-day drive to deliver Nic to school. However, from our point of view, there's an additional compensation that makes the trip well worthwhile -- a feature big enough to be visible in this satellite photo. See that long thin gray thing sticking south from town? That's one of the largest BNSF yards in the USA.

So last Labour Day weekend, having delivered offspring, assorted furniture, books and what-have-you to an apartment on a pleasant tree-lined street, we headed out for some train-watching....

First stop was the Railroad Museum, which displays artefacts and memorabilia from Galesburg's long history as a railroad town. On our last visit (see article in June 2005 Interchange), the collection was still housed in an old Pullman. However, they've now moved into a new depot-style building, with much more space to display the artefacts. For example, there's Nic "driving" the control stand out of a GP38.

Where to railfan?

It's only a small exaggeration to say that there are few places in Galesburg that aren't train-watching spots. The Museum, for example, is located next to the north end of the yard, where you can see arriving and departing Amtrak and freight -- some with fascinating open loads like this one:

However, possibly the best spot is the Thirwell Road bridge (see background of topmost photo), which spans the yard near its midpoint. What's more, though the road is only two lanes wide, the bridge was built with four lanes, so it's easy to just park in the curb lane and take pictures undisturbed by passing traffic. From up here there is an excellent view of the locomotive fuelling facility to the north of the bridge (and look at the variety of road-names on that line-up in the foreground -- how many of them are no longer in business?)

But the real action was taking place to the south of the bridge, in what (if I understand the layout correctly) is the eastbound classification yard. Here, 5205 is leaving eastbound with a long train. One thing I enjoy about BNSF trains is that they always use multiple engines -- no two of which are in the same paint scheme!

Meanwhile, way back in the top centre of the picture, two yard employees seem to be discussing the next job. Once 5205 gets out of the way the yellow/blue and green/white locos back there start to move.

But take a close look at the photo below left: do you see anyone in the cab of 6397? Who's driving that train?! You can't quite make it out at this resolution, but the red sign above the number boards reads: REMOTE CONTROL EQUIPPED. The operator is actually standing on the ground, just to the right of the last car. Of course, they warn you about this at the yard entrances with big yellow signs (below right). There's an irony here: while we model railroaders are trying to capture that "in the cab" experience, the real railroads are moving their operators out of the cab, and handing them little boxes to drive their engines with!

Here's another shot of both switchers in operation. 6397's driver is now standing next to the loco, and you can see the driver of 6215 (yellow/blue Santa Fe paint) hanging off the right side of the last hopper, as he makes a backing move through the ladder.

After enjoying the view from the bridge for a while (and shooting far more photos than I'm going to download -- DSLRs are a wonderful invention, and make it easy to get carried away and shoot ten pictures of everything in sight!) we drove down a gravel access road on the east side of the yard, until we came to a vehicle entrance. From here (without even going on the property), we could witness an interesting aspect of yard operation: a working hump! Here's a sequence showing a car going over the hill:

Railfanning Galesburg yard was a most enjoyable way to spend a few hours, even in a prairie heat wave. We look forward to getting back down there again this year!


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