The Union Pacific rail gang has been building the replacement switch off to the side of the railroad this week. Here a container train slowly goes by while the rail gang works on building the switch.
Later that same morning, Amtrak slowly crept through the area going the other direction while work continued on the switch.
The idea with this construction is to build the entire switch as one large assembly, after which the crew will then cut out the existing switch and use a crane to move the old switch out, then drop in the new switch, then connect everything together, minimizing the total time the line has to be out of service. It's sort of like installing model railroading "snap-track," but at 1:1 scale.
Yesterday evening, after the crew building this assembly had left but before the crew came to do last night's work on this stretch of track, Lisa and I walked over and had a closer look.
This last photo is the switch itself. The switch is manually operated, but the silver box is a switch lock that must be unlocked to allow the switch to be reversed (changed from the main line to the house track). Doing so sets the signals to red in this area, and also shows up on the dispatcher's board in Omaha. This is of course for safety, as you certainly don't want a train operating at 70 mph track speed running through here into an open switch rated for 10 mph. I certainly don't want it to happen across from my house!
This particular switch lock seems to have been a headache for the local signal maintainer. More than once we've heard the maintainer called out at odd hours to fix that switch lock, when operating train crews have been either unable to unlock the switch or re-lock it when they are done with their work at Fernley House Track.
The rail assembly gang were out this morning continuing to assemble this switch. Lisa and I had errands in Reno today, so we missed out seeing what additional work they did. I thought they might have gone ahead and installed the switch while we were gone, but it's still sitting there awaiting completion.
After Lisa and I got home from Reno, a procession of rail maintenance equipment came through.
On plain line (no switches, what I think they've been doing is pulling the spikes, cutting the old rail, lifting out the old rail and replacing the ties and plates, laying in new track, re-welding the track, and then driving new spikes (or more likely drilling, with screw-type spikes) and aligning the track and tamping the ballast. You can see piles of new ballast in the distance that seem to be intended for the new switch when they install it as these two spike-driving machines go by near the area where the old switch is still in place, while the drive new spikes on the sections of track on both sides of the old switch.
All of this work disrupts train traffic, of course. In places like Fernley, traffic can be routed (slowly) through the siding, but on the single-track sections it shuts everything down. It's necessary work, but it's a headache for the dispatcher and for the operating crews. I don't know if UP has been re-routing trains through the Feather River Canyon, but Amtrak has still been going by. One of these days there will be a planned Amtrak diversion through Feather River, and if I get wind of it soon enough, I will take some quick days off and drive to Winnemucca to take the trip through the Canyon. I may never get the chance, however, as word of such planned detours tends to spread so fast that by the time I hear about it, the relevant trains are all sold out.