Dispatcher Road Trip - Where West becomes EastSome dispatchers have commented that they like my photos because it gives them an opportunity to see the railroad they are dispatching. So in that context I offer this otherwise boring photo of Moran Junction, Montana. The photo is looking west. Four miles ahead is Huntley where the 830 mile former CB&Q Long Branch joins the former Northern Pacific transcontinental main. For the last 10 miles the Long Branch roughly parallels the NP, gradually getting closer and closer together until they meet at Huntley. This connection track at Huntley did not exist until the very late 1970s. When coal traffic started running from the Sheridan, Wyoming area Decker Mine to the lake boat docks at Superior, Wisconsin in the early 1970s the only way to get there was via Huntley. We had to take the trains up the CTC siding at Huntley and then swap ends with the locos and caboose to make an eastbound train out of a westbound. Empty trains coming from Wisconsin had to do the same thing. While that operation worked when it was one or two trains per week it quickly became an operating headache as train frequency increased. In the late 1970s the BN built a direct connection track at a point east of Huntley where the two lines were far enough apart to accomodate the 180 degree U-turn. The new junction on the CB&Q side became Moran Junction and on the NP end it was named Jones Junction after the people who owned the land. Although the connection track looks like a siding in this photo, it is not. In the distance it makes a sharp curve to the right and completely changes direction from westbound to eastbound. The orignal Moran Jct switch was located at that curve but the resulting connection track could not hold an entire unit coal train. As both freight traffic and coal traffic increased it became clear that a connection track that could hold an entire train clear of both mains would be a great benefit. So the BN extended the CB&Q end of the connection and moved Moran Jct to its present location.
It is March 23, 2001 and I am on the M-DENBIL, BNSF6786.
February 20, 2002 finds me on an eastbound grain empty waiting at Moran Jct for a Forsyth bound coal train to clear. At this moment both trains are eastbound! The coal train has just entered the connection "loop" and the loop's direction is designated as westbound from the Jones Jct end. So the three locos and first 3 cars are officially eastbound the same as my train.
A minute later I have crossed the cab and I am looking back along our train from the conductor's window. The coal train is begining the curve that will reverse its compass direction.
A few seconds later another shot taken from the conductor's window shows the coal train's head end passing through Jones Junction. It is now headed in the same physical directon as my train. The cars in the forground are the last two of his train. He is in the clear at Moran Junction and I will soon get the signal to depart.
The Race is OnI now have a green CTC signal. My train is already stretched tight since it has been sitting draped over a hump midway back in the train. Number three throttle gets the 102 grain empties moving then its straight to eight. For the next five miles to Ballentine on my route and Worden on the coal train's route the two tracks parallel each other roughly a half mile apart. The race is on! The coal train's power is now across the field directly opposite my conductor's window. It is traveling at the 25 mph loop speed limit as his rear end exits the connection track and he is slowly passing us. My three C44s load slowly enough that with our empty train the speed increases faster than the amps. So no need to use sand to prevent slipping. The coal train across the fields has crept 20 cars past us as we accelerate. It is now entirely on the main and its three SD70MACs are in full throttle accellerating the coal train down grade. Meanwhile on our side my three C44s have the grain empties passing through 35 mph as we climb the hump east of Moran. I am gaining on the coal train. Soon we are both at 50 mph, the legal limit for the loaded coal train. For a few seconds we are neck and neck. But I can run 55 mph here and we begin to creep ahead. By the time the coal train goes out of sight at Ballentine we are 10 carlengths ahead of him.
Another day, another train. It is April 1, 2001 and again I am eastbound but this time on the P-SSEMEM. I am approaching Moran Jct in a heated race to the switch with an empty coal train from Minnesota. (OK OK I have the green at Moran and he doesn't so it isn't much of a race). The photo is taken from the engineer's seat looking out the center front windshield of SD40-2 BN 6816 and angled about 45 degrees from straight ahead. (The black object at the bottom of the photo is the top of the "Mary"). The locos and first 10-15 cars of the empty train are on the connection track. In front of the large white building roof and just off the right end you can see 2 of the 3 signals for Jones Jct, the other end of the connection track.
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