Monday, July 13, 2009

Winterail-fanning -- 2009 Edition

Things are a bit quiet right now, so with nothing new to report in 2009 let's go back a few months to March and look at a trip I took with my brother Bruce to California. The reason for going was to attend the big railroad slide show, Winterail, in Stockton. But with air fares cooperating, we decided to fly into Los Angeles and spend a few days in Southern California before heading up to the Bay Area. Photos of this trip can be found in Photologues here.

Day 1: March 10, 2009 -- Black and Silver "Green" Machines
Our all-morning flight gets us into L.A. International right about lunch time, and we immediately head out for the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. At the Port is the Pacific Harbor Belt, a railroad that was just named Railway Age's Short Line of the Year for its innovative roster made up entirely of low-emissions locomotives (and all painted in a Santa Fe-inspired and quite attractive silver and black).

We check in at the office, located at Pier A Yard near Wilmington, and meet railroad president Andrew Fox (I had met Andrew a few years before while visiting here with friend Dave Crammer). After congratulating him on his recent award, I asked him where would be a good place to photograph his railroad -- after all, Port security seemed tight in the post-9/11 world. Andrew quickly gets out a map and begins marking all the publicly accessible locations where trains might be found. He then gives me his card and cell phone number, in case I get hassled somewhere.

When I ask about photographing around the shop, he indicates that he was about to take a break to enjoy the Southern California sunshine, and takes Bruce and I for a pleasant walk where we're able to photograph a large chunk of the roster. Once we're done at the shop, we bid farewell and head out, map in hand, looking for trains.

We wind up circling the port a few times, but finally we find not one, but two trains running practically side-by-side on opposite sides of a small river from the Anaheim Street bridge. Once that was done, it's time for more circling, until we find a switch job working the Yang Ming facility near San Pedro. (Alas, the Big Red streetcars that serve San Pedro are not running on this day). After another couple of circles of the Ports, we find nothing (while there are a lot of accessible places in the Port, there are a lot of inaccessible places as well). The only real find is Union Pacific's heritage unit painted for the Western Pacific, the first heritage unit I've seen. Alas, it's completely unshootable. We pack it in and head south along the coast.

Day 2: March 11, 2009 -- Along the Pacific Coast
The morning starts out with ocean fog. Lots of it. We think we see bright spots, but it always shuts down again. Anyhow, undaunted (well, maybe a little daunted) we head for Del Mar and an appointment with Amtrak's Pacific Surfliners and the Coasters that serve San Diego-bound commuters. We start on the bluffs behind some very expensive houses, where we get a Coaster pushing south (locomotives are always on the north end, so southbound Coasters have cab cars leading), a Coaster pulling north and Amtrak going south (Amtrak, on the other hand, always has the locomotives on the south end).

We relocate to a small bridge just south of town and get two Amtraks and a Coaster in fairly quick succession (and since it's a broadside shot, direction isn't important). Back to the bluffs for a southbound Amtrak, then we head over behind the Del Mar horse track to get a broadside of a northbound Amtrak on a bridge.

With the sun finally starting to break through, we go to another set of bluffs on the south end of town (overlooking a very expensive home) to photograph a variety of Amtrak and Coaster trains. With a northbound Amtrak due next, we head over to the Soledad Lagoon in Torrey Pines State Reserve for a broadside of the train passing under old Highway 101. Then it's off to the Del Mar Racetrack, this time from the west side on the shoulder of the 101 for a southbound Amtrak and a northbound Coaster.

With the day growing short, we head north to Oceanside to add two more railroads to our mix -- Metrolink, which serves the Los Angeles commuter market, and the Sprinter, a diesel-powered light rail line between Oceanside and Escondido connecting with Metrolink, Coaster and Amtrak. We start off with a northbound Metrolink train pushing out of the Oceanside station, followed by a northbound Amtrak train in push mode. We then get our first look at the Sprinter as it arrives, and before it can make its turn to go back to Escondido, Amtrak comes rolling south. Shortly thereafter we get the Sprinter on its way back east.

Since we haven't seen the Sprinter before, we decide to try to find another location and wind up at the first grade crossing east of where the Sprinter's line veers away from the ex-Santa Fe surf line. Then its quickly back to the surf line for a northbound Coaster. Next up is a northbound Metrolink train -- the last northbound we saw was in push mode, so we set up at the south end of the San Luis Rey River bridge. Bzzzzt! Wrong! This train is pulling north, so we get a poor going away shot of a cab car. We get marginally redeemed when Amtrak comes south across the bridge a few minutes later. We then scramble south of the Oceanside station to get a Coaster pushing south.

With the day rapidly ending, we try to head for San Clemente but realize we have no chance of getting anything in sun there, so we wheel back into Oceanside. We finish up with Metrolink and Coaster action on the river bridge from the sunny side, and end with silhouette shots of Amtrak after the sun went down. Now it's off to the Tehachapi Mountains.

Day 3: March 12, 2009 -- Almost Heaven, Tehachapi Loop
We get up in the morning at the Quality Inn in Tehachapi and begin heading back through the mountains. No trains. We get all the way to the opposite end of the mountains at Caliente when finally we find a train heading towards Bakersfield. We immediately run into Mike Schaller from Virginia, and together we photograph the BNSF train from the hills near the Caliente horseshoe.

Next we find an uphill BNSF double-stack train, so we follow the dirt roads up and over Tunnel 3 at Bealville and get the train exiting there. We then go to the new Loop overlook (this had been a walking path just a couple of years ago, but now has vehicle access and a nice parking area) and in the process overtake a BNSF piggyback train. We get this train completely wrapped around the famed Tehachapi Loop at Walong, then go up the road just a little to get the stack train we had seen at Tunnel 3, this time exiting Tunnel 10.

Backtracking downhill to Woodford, we pick up an uphill Union Pacific general merchandise train (this trackage is jointly operated by BNSF and Union Pacific, inherited from predecessor roads Santa Fe and Southern Pacific respectively). We then go to a second overlook of Tunnel 10 and get the UP train there.

Heading all the way back downhill to Caliente, futilely looking for trains, we finally encounter an uphill BNSF piggyback train led by a red and silver ex-Santa Fe warbonnet. We get this train in the S-curves below Caliente, then make what is a very short drive for us but a very long way for the train to go over to Tunnel 2 and get the train exiting the bore. Rumor has it that BNSF wants to double-track most of the line through the Tehachapi Mountains, and if that comes to fruition all of the tunnels we had photographed this day (Tunnels 2, 3 and 10) would be eliminated and replaced by deep cuts. We snag the piggyback train again at Woodford, then get it crossing over itself at the Loop's Tunnel 9 (this tunnel would survive the double-tracking project), then get it again howling through Monolith past the cement plant there.

Trains still aren't running very much, and we get a BNSF general merchandise train running against the sun. To cure that, we follow him all the way to Mojave to get him under a signal bridge there. We had just missed a UP cement train going west at Mojave, but after getting the BNSF train we wheel back to Tehachapi in plenty of time to get him going under a classic ex-Santa Fe cantilever signal bridge. Continuing the chase, we try for the over-under shot at Tunnel 9, but the train is too short -- way too short -- to wrap around the entire loop. With the late afternoon sun casting a warm glow, we get the train heading downhill through Bealville, then scoot down the steep highway into Caliente to get him heading through the horseshoe.

The day is done -- or so we thought. As we pack up and head towards the Bay Area, the highway and the tracks come together just before Bakersfield at Edison. Here we find all the rail traffic that hadn't run during the day. We get our cement train meeting a BNSF stack train, overtake a BNSF merchandise train, and finish with a stack train coming out of the setting sun. Goodbye sunny Southern California.

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