Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Train Time

This morning shortly after 9 AM, the Union Pacific 844 Steam Train Twitter feed announced that the train was moving out on its trip south toward Fremont, where it would turn east through Centerville station and head out into Niles Canyon toward Stockton. I took my camera and Cheryl's unipod and walked over to the station. As I got there, I knew I was in the right place, as the station was festooned with many other people turning out for a look at the steamer. I picked out a spot along the platform where I thought I could get a decent shot of the train coming and going and that wouldn't be blocking the view of any of the other people set up to shoot. There's some etiquette to forming photo lines. One person complained at the people milling around in front of him, and I called out to ask if I was blocking his shot. He told me I was okay; it was the other people between him and me that were the problem.

I'd brought my 2m ham rig, tuned to the railroad frequency in this area. I could hear the UP dispatcher talking to various trains, but could only hear the trains' side of the conversation when they were near the station. A couple of Capitol trains passed through Centerville, giving the photographers false starts. A crewman from a Capitol was standing in a doorway near me and asked how long before the steam train came through. I gave him the status as best I could figure it out.

Meanwhile, north of us, Amtrak train 11, the Coast Starlight was more or less on time and wanting to leave Oakland, heading south to San Jose. The UP dispatcher let train 11 out in front of the 844 steam train, issuing a track warrant -- permission to occupy a given section of track -- for the Coast Subdivision between Elmhurst and Carter (specific named points on the railroad line. Elmhurst is where the Niles Subdivision that runs through Fremont rejoins the Coast Subdivision south of Oakland Coliseum. Carter is the point just north of Newark Junction, where southbound trains either continue south on the Coast Sub to San Jose or turn east through Fremont on the Niles Sub.

I relayed the explanation of the train's progress as best as I could make it to the people around me. "Amtrak 11 is in front of 844," I explained, "So 844 can't possibly be here in less than twenty minutes." I heard number 11 release its track warrant, meaning it was past Newark Junction and 844 would be heading down the line next.

After a while, I could barely make out the crew on board 844 talking to the dispatcher as Omaha warned the train crew that there were apparently lots of people milling around Niles Junction, site of the now-razed Niles Tower, and that they were to be careful through there and sound the whistle liberally. I heard the conductor tell the head end, "The rear end is clear of the junction; we're on straight track," and the engineer let the locomotive loose. Within seconds, someone cried, "I can see the smoke!" and sure enough, in the distance a plume of smoke from the oil-burner's stack was visible and the sound of the steam whistle could be heard faintly.

As the train's headlight became visible in the distance, I zoomed in and started recording. There are a bunch of grade crossings before Centerville station, so the locomotive made a good show and lots of noise. As the train neared, I zoomed back out and watched the train come at us. This video doesn't do nearly enough justice to the wall of sound and vibration that is 844 traveling at track speed -- 50 mph on this stretch of track -- less than ten feet in front of me standing on the platform.

As you can see, as the train continued around the bend on its way toward Stockton, someone stepped right in front of my shot and I had to pick up the camera and step to my right to catch the last few cars of the train disappearing in the distance. That's a minor annoyance, though, and not worth getting too excited about.

My hour of waiting had culminated in under three minutes of sound and fury, and I was delighted to have experienced it. However, I now needed to hustle back home and get into work, where I had a meeting at Noon that I only just barely met. I can't upload videos to YouTube from work, so processing had to wait until I got home this evening.

I'm not thrilled with the quality of this video on YouTube. I shot it at the highest setting my camera will take, but the movie I created is at a lower resolution. I may try creating a higher resolution movie from the source video and see if YouTube can manage it.
Tags: trains
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