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Edition #32, June 15, 2006

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The Long and Wild Train Chase

Photographer: Ken Carr

                                                                            Photo by Ken Carr

The Long and Wild Train Chase

Ever had one of those days where you just never could find that exclusive train? You look in your favorite spots, listen to scanner and friend reports and still where was a train to photograph.

In the spring of 2004, rail fanning was finally becoming a hobby enjoyed normally on Friday mornings in Las Vegas. My time to get in a little rail fanning was limited by two jobs, chores and other projects. Fridays was spent making a trip across town near the Rio Hotel to deliver a cup of Starbucks or meet for lunch with my girlfriend, on her job and then parallel the tracks on my way home catching anything that moved along this part of the Union Pacific Subdivisions of the Los Angeles-Salt Lake City route.

It wasnít a busy line but unlike some of my fellow rail fans I always seemed to catch something moving. Once back home I would knock out any household chores and then get ready for my second job.  Unless I was free that evening I rarely left the Vegas Valley, ending my trips on the outskirts at the Apex turn off along I-15 on the north end of the Valley where I would turn around and where the Union Pacific RR entered the valley from the north or RR east.

This particular Friday I spoke to a fellow rail fan and truck driver who was traveling north on I-15 to Saint George Utah for a delivery, Kevin related he keep me abreast of anything he saw along the rails. I told him I might get as far as Apex but with limited time it was doubtful I get even that far.

On my return home the scanner was quiet and the rails empty, nothing was moving in either direction. I continued to drive north to the Valley mini yard and even the yard was quiet with the one local crew going to beans with their locomotive parked in the shade of an overpass. With my scanner beeping with a low battery warning, I was turning south for home when my cell chirped with a call from Kevin telling me of a meet just above the Apex curve.

So back on I-15 north towards Apex, I knew I wouldnít catch the meet but the westbound engine heading into Vegas I could chase back into town. As I approached the switch I saw a few cars but no engines. Continuing north still looking I drove to the next exit looking for the engines, nothing, not even the Apex local job was in sight. Getting off at the exit Kevin called again 20 miles ahead at Ute was a light engine move, eight engines just sitting there Kevin explained excitedly. Just then our phones went dead and a second try at calling him back resulted in his voice mail Kevin was out of range, I debated a second then got back up on the interstate once again heading north. Ute was five miles off the interstate but if you were knowledgeable and in a big rig seeing engines at Ute would be easy. As I reached the high point along the interstate where I could see the Ute station I looked for the engines but instead saw six brightly colored rail cars (hoppers and boxcars). Anger slowly crept in and I thought about chasing Kevin up to St. George. But low on fuel and stomach giving me pains I decided to proceed ten miles further north to Glendale Nevada grab some fuel and lunch and head for home. 

Two miles before the Glendale exit is Hidden Valley exit a road that leads to an old Dairy farm/ranch and further to the local power plant which normally has a coal train parked as it slowly empties it load. Maybe this trip wonít be a total waste I thought.

As I crested the hill towards the upcoming exit way in the distance I saw lights, ditch lights there was a westbound approaching the power plant, with a bit of luck I could catch it there I knew just the spot a small trestle and near by a small highway bridge I could take the shot from. As I hurried to the exit a two-trailer water tanker changed lanes and exited in front of me. No way could this be happening. The road was two lanes and full of S curves, no place safe to pass. Following the truck I knew the outcome but kept going. As I entered Hidden Valley the truck finally pulled over and allowed me to pass. Coming out of the Valley and towards the Coal plant I saw the engine pass behind the plant into the desert. A clean set of SD-70Mís with bright red K-line trailers in tow. Well there goes the shot! No way could I chase it out into the desert and I couldnít chase it back to Vegas with out first refueling. As it passed the plant the track speed increased to 65 MPH again and unless it caught a meet there was no way to catch it with a refueling stop thrown in. I proceeded towards the plant but once again luck was against me the normal coal train was gone next to the track a large pile of coal over ten stories in height. As I left the plant and took the side road to Glendale and fuel, I saw the tail end of the K-line, with itís flashing Fred. It appeared stopped. Pulling over and glancing at it again it was stopped. What problem could have caused a train to stop on the main?

Turning around I proceeded around the plant on a perimeter road covered in coal dust and mud, cresting one hill and then another I saw the head engine ahead and embedded on the coupler a white work truck. Damn a collision, from up on the hill the engine appeared ok, but next to the tracks you could see the drag marks the truck had left in the ballast as it was dragged down the tracks. Taking a jeep trail I proceeded to the ROW road and up to the engine. The crew was still inside. I waved to them and they waved back, I then cautiously looked for signs of life in the cab of the truck. But the truck was empty, looking down the tracks I saw the truck crew slowly walking up to the engine. It was then that I grabbed my camera and took one of my first shots, of what would be two 36 shot rolls of film of the scene. During the next few hours as emergency fire and police arrived, then Union Pacific maintenance crews and management and finally the Apex local a pair of SD-40s which was used to pull the truck off the coupler. But my second shot on the roll is this head on view of the locomotive and truck. After a long chase I finally caught my train for the day.

Ken Carr

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