Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Daylight Follow-Up on the House Track Incident

Late this afternoon, I ventured over to the UP tracks, taking careful observation to make sure there were no trains coming — the track signals are only lit when there are trains in the area. I wanted to get some pictures in daylight of where the misadventure with the pickup truck happened.

MP 276 House Track Switch Approach

This is the approach to the area where the trouble started. Technically, it's a continuation of Front Street (where I live), although it's not signed, nor is it obviously marked in any way other than on Google Maps. The road itself turns left (in front of the gate with the STOP sign — it's a private road beyond the gate) and continues parallel to the tracks through a service yard where Union Pacific stores track maintenance supplies.

The round red sign on a post (known as a "target" in railroad jargon) is the switchstand that controls the House Track switch that runs off the UP main line here. The silver box to the right of the switchstand is the power lock. (Crews must have a key to unlock this box in order to throw the switch. Doing so tells the dispatcher in Omaha that the switch is open and sets the mainline signals at East and West Fernley to STOP.) To the left is a drainage canal that runs under the road and the track through culverts and eventually flows into the Fernley Sink.

The driver of the pickup, instead of turning left down the access road (you can also go right and circle back over to the paved road), drove straight ahead here.

MP 276 House Track Switch Approach

You can see the tracks he left driving up the gravel embankment (the track ballast). This is not a gravel road! Driving through it is a good way to get stuck even if you don't drive over the tracks.

MP 276 House Track Switch

Here's the spot where he drove up and over the tracks, initially getting his front two wheels over the near-side rail. I took the picture of this area in the dark with the flash last night, but it's much easier to see everything in this view. He just barely missed the switch stand and the gear that manages the power lock.

As I mentioned last night, the UP maintainer filled in the holes that the pickup tore in the trackside ballast.

MP 276 Facing West

Had he turned left just before the tracks (which is the UP Nevada Subdivision main line, rated at 70 MPH), he might have been able to squeeze by between the main line and the fence at the edge of the culvert where the drainage canal runs under the tracks, assuming he didn't lose momentum and get stuck in the ballast.

The silver box at left houses the equipment that communicates between the power switch lock and the UP centralized traffic control system. (The switch itself is not powered, only the lock/communications gear.) In the middle distance at left is the milepost 276 sign, nominally indicating distance from San Francisco. (It's more complicated than that; there is no longer a milepost zero on the ex-SP system.) The track on the right is Fernley Siding, and the switch beyond that leads to the industries in the distance. There is no power lock here, as Fernley Siding is much slower than the main (20 mph, I think). Not visible in the distance down the tracks are the signals at West Fernley. You can see them when they are lit, which they were not when I took this picture. (I wouldn't have been standing there if they were.) They guard the entrance/exit from the main to Fernley Siding, and work automatically (lighting only when there is a train in the circuit). The switches at West and East Fernley are controlled by the dispatcher in Omaha.

Near MP 276

The driver of the pickup, once he managed to bounce across the tracks, drove between the two tracks to roughly where the industrial track diverges from Fernley Siding before he drove back over the tracks and into the UP maintenance yard at left.

MP 276 Facing East

Looking back the other way at MP 276, you can see the communications box at right, then the culvert fence, then the switchstand and power lock. The pickup was stuck between the fence and the switchstand, with two wheels over the rail and the drive wheels spinning furiously. Beyond that is the mainline switch leading into the Fernley House Tracks. The large white building ahead on the right is Imerys Minerals. Fernley House is beyond the trees on the right.

Once again, I think we got very lucky last night. I'm not sure whether our intervention helped a whole lot, but it did get the mess reported in slightly garbled form to the UP track maintainer, who had to drive up the access road because the milepost 276 location wasn't clearly communicated through several levels.

I'm starting to wonder if I need to keep flares and/or a red signal lamp around here in case something like this happens again. It's possible that maybe a train coming through (we're about halfway between the two ends of Fernley Siding) might see a flare in time to stop their train, but it's not sure. It takes a long time to stop a train moving at 70 miles/hour.
Tags: trains, union pacific

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