Billings Coal EmptiesOn December 7, 2002 I was called at 11:00am for the Billings Coal Empties. Everything about this particular train was unusual. It is normally ran just after midnight so this mid-day call was an unusual treat. It is also normally ran with three units, anything from SD40-2s through SD60s and SD70MACs. Today we have only two SD70MACs. And lastly it is encumbered with 8 loads. Normally we get the power out of the Laurel roundhouse then run light to Billings where we pick up the empty coal train. But this day we picked up 8 loads of ammonia nitrate at Laurel. Fertilizer apparently headed for one of the Gillette area mines.
The extra length of those cars caused the head end of the train to hang out on the eastward main at Billings while we did the air test. This photo is taken from the lead unit looking back as we charge the train line for the air test.
The MRL has filed a petition with the FRA to remove the signal on the left of the above picture. It is left over from Northern Pacific passenger train days and when there was a spring switch here onto the main. Now all it does is delay every EB train passing through Billings because it requires that the overhead mainline signal remain red until the train enters a clearing section about 3,000 feet west of here.
After we get the trainline charged to at least 75psi on the FRED and the air flow down below 60 cubic feet per minute I make a 20 psi reduction to set the air brakes. My conductor then walks the train checking to see that each car has applied and that all handbrakes are off. Upon reaching the rear end he closes the anglecock at FRED and tells me to test the FRED. I toggle the rear end emergency switch causing FRED to dump the air from the brake hose between itself and the last car. My conductor reports that FRED is a good test and re-opens the anglcock. I release the air brakes and pull the train out onto the mainline. The conductor rides the last car out and stops me at the switch. He closes the switch then walks up the train checking the release.
When the train is called just after midnight we can normally get permission for a blind back up movement to pick up the conductor. In that case he observes the release as I back the train past him and he does not have to walk back to the head end. But with a mid-day call the MRL yard engines have "work between" warrants active so we cannot back up blind in their limits. The conductor has to walk up.
Again because of the extra length of the 8 loads the locos are farther east than they normally would be when the last car reaches the mainline switch. Normally we would be west of the CTC control point at East Billings End of Double Track. Today I am within the control point limits. While waiting for my conductor to walk up I took these pictures.
In this first photo you can see the sharp, 40 mph, curve just beyond the overpass. The signal at the right is the end of CTC and begining of double track ABS. Until about 8 months ago we almost always got Item 11 on our track warrants for this location, operate at Restricted Speed. Since you would be operating on the other track going WB the visibility is even less than shown by this photo. You had to be down to about 8-10 mph with freight trains and down to 4 mph with coal or grain trains to be able to stop in one half the range of vision. It was a real pain in the you know what almost every trip. Last summer the MRL began issuing Item 11 from MP 225 to MP 2 instead of from CTC East Billings to MP 2. With that we do not have to get down to Restricted speed for another mile and a half so we can zoom around this curve at 40 mph on signal indication. (Yes I know a headlight is out. They were all working when we left Laurel roundhouse).
This photo was taken at the same location as above. It is a composite of two. The contrast was so high that a photo exposed for the outside made the inside all black and a photo exposed for the inside made the outside all white. So I took two identical photos, one each exposed for the outside and inside, then combined them.
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