Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Railroad Traffic Jam at Fernley

Fernley siding, which is immediately across the street from our house (it's on the north side of the main line; we're on the south side), is the longest siding (almost 10,000 feet long) on the Union Pacific main line between Sparks and Lovelock, and dispatchers appear to prefer it as a location for setting up "meets" on the single-track railroad. This morning, however, things got out of hand.

Westbound Amtrak #5, the California Zephyr was running about an hour behind schedule, meaning it should be coming by Fernley around 8:45 AM. About 8:30, I happened to notice that both the main and the siding were full of container trains. I wondered how Amtrak was going to get through. As it happened, they weren't. Both container trains were stopped. Thanks to the railroad scanner, I could follow some of what happened when four trains attempted to occupy two tracks.

The eastbound container train was on the siding and the westbound on the main. I could hear Amtrak #5 approaching East Fernley (the switch at the east end of Fernley siding) calling out the signals: "Advance approach ... Approach ... All red at East Fernley." The westbound container train couldn't get moving because the Union Pacific local serving Fernley, known as the "Fernley Flyer," was coming east and thus occupying the main west of Fernley.

The Fernley Flyer slowly made its way to West Fernley. I heard them call the eastbound container train and say, "We're two units and one well [two locomotives pulling a single car] and we're going to just sneak up here behind you — don't make any reverse moves!" After the Flyer squeezed into the available space, the dispatcher was finally able to clear the signal at West Fernley and allow the westbound container train through. About five minutes later, Amtrak #5 finally got the switch at East Fernley and was able to slowly roll by on the main, following that container train to Sparks and therefore losing even more time. The eastbound container train then rumbled to life and headed off toward Chicago, and finally the Flyer made its way down the siding, where it commenced to switch local industries including the cement plant located on the north side of the tracks.

This four-way clog doesn't happen that often, but we've occasionally had three trains here when the BNSF local is locked in to the switching leads directly across the street from our house. There are two tracks there known as the "New House Track" and "Old House Track," which I think must refer to their placement relative to the site of the Fernley train station, the building of which has long sense been moved over to Main Street away from the tracks, as "house track" is the usual name for non-main tracks around a train station.

It was otherwise an ordinary day here at Fernley, with the usual amount of train traffic. There was an oddball load that went through last night — a rotary snowplow on a flatcar — and I knew it was coming, because it was an oversize load (out of loading gauge) and the dispatcher had been having to baby it along all day, making sure it never was in a position to foul adjacent tracks. I was all set up to shoot video as it went by; however, by the time it got here, it was so dark that I wasn't able to get a clear shot of it. I assume that it was one of UP's rotaries returning from repairs back east, but I know nothing more than that.
Tags: bnsf, fernley, trains, union pacific
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