Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Frog Follies

In this case, I'm talking about a railroad frog, specifically the one in the switch off the Union Pacific mainline in front of our house that leads into the switching leads that form a miniature yard where BNSF switches cars nearly every day.

Yesterday morning, shortly after the westbound California Zephyr went by, I heard the dispatcher talking on the radio to a maintainer stationed here in Fernley. Apparently Amtrak reported an abnormally rough ride going over the switch. The maintainer had a look and slapped a 10 MPH speed restriction on it. That of course brought things to a near-standstill as even the super-high-priority "Z" train (priority containers) had to creep through town while the maintenance crew waited to go to work.

Apparently there was not a replacement switch frog immediately available, so the maintainer decided to "straight-rail" the switch. This involved cutting the frog out and inserting a piece of plain rail in its place. This of course required the switch to be disabled and spiked down. Red flags were placed on the west end of the "House Tracks" to warn crews not to try and switch there.

This was quite an operation. At one point there were nine different Union Pacific trucks parked across the street, including a couple of portable crane trucks to lift sections of rail. While they were in the process of laying in the straight section, "Little BN," the BNSF switch job to Fernley, showed up on Fernley Siding. They were obliged to do their switching only from the east end, which probably made things annoying for them to say the least.

The significance of having the main line out of service here cannot be stressed enough. This is a single-track main line with passing sidings. The switches at each end of the siding appear to be relatively low speed, so closing the main line requires everyone to slow down significantly to go through the "scenic route," as Amtrak crews call it.

After a few hours of work, the maintainer released the track warrant he had and pronounced the line open again and good for "maximum authorized speed." The UP maintenance crews left for the day. Lisa and I briefly looked in at the work. I wish we'd taken our camera. We did not and could not stay long, but we wanted to see what had happened.

This morning, the work crews were back on site, and after Amtrak and the "Z" went through, the dispatcher issued a warrant to the maintainer. We assume that the necessary replacement switch frog had been shipped in, probably from Roseville, overnight. Much of the day went by with the crew cutting out the rail they'd welded into place yesterday and setting the new frog into place. As it happens, Lisa and I went for a walk just as the crew was setting off the thermite charge used to weld the ends of the rail into place. Lisa took photos of the work and we'll post them when we get a chance. Little BN came around and did what switching they could from the temporarily-single-ended switching lead.

By late afternoon the work was done. Once again, after the crews had cleared away, we popped over to examine the newly-installed switch frog. I knew from radio traffic that an eastbound train was getting near Fernley, so we took care to have only one of us at a time looking at the track, while the other kept a watch for trains. Sure enough, I saw the distant signal at West Fernley flash red, and shortly thereafter the headlight of an oncoming train (about two miles west) appeared, so we beat it back to the road. Safety first!

I wish I could have watched more of how the work was going out there, but (a) there's no good view out the front of the house (because it's dominated by the fireplace) and (b) I'm very busy with Day Jobbe, working 10 hour days to try and meet a client deadline, so I simply can't take gobs of time to watch other people work, no matter how fascinating it is.
Tags: bnsf, fernley, trains, union pacific

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