Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

In Search of a Fired Locomotive

Last night, shortly before I went to bed, I heard a one-sided radio conversation, with the side I could hear being the Union Pacific dispatcher responsible for the stretch of track between Sparks and Winnemucca (the Nevada Subdivision). The second locomotive of several hauling very a long train (>13,000-feet, and therefore longer than the sidings on Nevada Sub) apparently had caught fire! The train had come to a halt near milepost 319, which means the train might have also been blocking the US-95 grade crossing. Worse, the crew said the locomotive may have been on fire from as far as Hazen (MP 288). The dispatcher called for the fire department (which probably had to come from Fallon, about 30 mi / 50 km south) and also called one of the track maintainers who lives in Fernley, who had to use his rail-equipped truck to get onto the track at Hazen and inspect the 30-plus miles of track for any damage. I did not hear the rest of the story, but I do note that the only train I recall coming through today was a train of maintenance-of-way equipment. Whether that means repairs were required or it was only a coincidence, I do not know.

This afternoon, Lisa and I drove to Fallon, where I had some store credit from Ace Hardware in that city that we wanted to use before it expired. Unfortunately, as soon as we entered the store, Lisa noticed that the employees were all wearing their face covering below their noses, below their chins, or just hanging by one ear, and we turned around and walked out, with Lisa giving them an earful about why they lost our business. (And we expected to spend a lot more than $5 worth of store credit there, too.)

Having made it as far as Fallon, Lisa asked if we could go look at the site of where the train fire was, as it's road accessible. So instead of going straight home, we went the long way around the triangle formed by Fernley, Fallon, and I-80/US-95.

Train Accident Memorial

This is not the first time there has been a fire at this location, but the last time it happened, the results were much more tragic. This makeshift monument memorializes the June 26, 2011 crash of a big rig into the side of the California Zephyr passing over the grade crossing. The car caught fire (mainly from the diesel in the big rig) and six people died. A court later awarded Amtrak damages and found the trucking company at fault. The truck driver died in the crash, but it seems likely to me that the overworked driver was asleep or highway-hypnotized at the wheel and didn't realize until too late that the gates were down and a train was over the crossing.

UP Grade Crossing at US-95

This is the grade crossing where it happened. Just out of sight on the opposite side of the crossing from where I was standing when I took this is a pile of debris that may be left over from the 2011 accident.

A short distance down the tracks we could see what appeared to be a locomotive. The trackside access road was in good enough condition that I could drive down to it, saving us about a 1 km walk.

UP CP RV319 Ocala

This is the west end of Ocala siding. If I understood the radio traffic correctly, the train stopped either just short of the siding, or possibly just before the grade crossing.

CSX 718 at Ocala NV

Here's the disabled locomotive, CSX 718. (I don't know the details of why this CSX locomotive was running on a Union Pacific train, but it is common for locomotives to be off their home rails for many reasons.)

CSX 718 at Ocala NV

There were no obvious signs of damage to the locomotive.

CSX 718 at Ocala NV

Again, working from what I heard on the radio, once the fire was out, the dispatcher instructed the crew of the train to cut out the second locomotive and set it out in a siding. They would undoubtedly have preferred to have had a "house track" (like the one across from our home) or a maintenance-of-way siding (for parking maintenance equipment), but there are none nearby here, and thus they had to cut the front two locomotives (including the damaged unit) off the front of the train, drag the fire-damaged unit into Ocala siding, tie it down (note the wheel chocks), then have the lead locomotive run down to the east end of the 9,640-foot-long siding and then back up to the parked train, tie back on, and finally get moving. While they did this, nothing else could move on the Nevada Subdivison.

CSX 718 at Ocala NV

Examining the rear truck of the locomotive, we speculate that the traction motors on this truck may have siezed up and caught fire, based on the lack of obvious external fire damage and the fluid leaking onto the track.

UP CP RV319 Ocala

The line is clear again, but until UP figures out how to shift this disabled locomotive, Ocala siding is blocked.

Our curiousity satisfied, we headed home via the rest area at US-95/I-80 and the fast way home west on I-80, passing the Land of Boiling Death (the geothermal plant and steam-powered onion-drying facility) and on to Fernley, where we stopped at Lowe's to try and buy some sanding sealer for the front porch, for as it turns out we had less than a pint of it left in stock. Unfortunately, they were sold out of gallon cans. We may go into Reno tomorrow to see if Sherwin-Williams has some.
Tags: trains, union pacific
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