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The Railfan Experience - Neighborhood excitement

Neighborhood Excitement

February 15, 2005. The closest rail line to my family's home in the Fort Worth suburb of Keller is the Union Pacific Choctaw Subdivision main line between McAlester, Oklahoma and Fort Worth. It's about three miles east of our house. The line is not especially scenic, especially in our area, and we've seen a real explosion in urban clutter (billboards, power lines, stop lights, "strip" shopping centers) in recent years. So, needless to say, I don't spend much time photographing Choctaw Sub trains near my neighborhood. But that's not to say that there isn't some interesting railroading taking place here...

  stopped in a bad spot
Stopped on "Drawbar Hill" in Keller.

Take last Tuesday for example. I was driving north along Denton Highway, on my way home from Dallas, when I spotted the headlight of a southbound Choctaw Sub train. The sun was out, but I didn't have my cameras with me, and I figured this would probably be just another Choctaw Sub train that I wouldn't get a shot of. Then I realized the train was stopped, in a location where trains don't normally stop unless they want to block a couple of very busy grade crossings! As I got closer, I realized what the problem was... the train had broken in two between the fifth and sixth cars behind the engines, and the first car on the rear portion of the train had its drawbar missing from the south end. In other words, "uh-oh"!

The train's head end was stopped just north of the crossing at Kroger Dr., and the rear portion was fouling the crossing at Wall-Price. They may have been blocking Bear Creek Parkway also; I never made it to the rear of the train to check. The tracks make a significant "sag" through Keller, crossing Bear Creek at the low point in the sag. South of Bear Creek, the tracks climb approximately one mile up a 0.87 percent grade, which tops out just north of the Kroger crossing.

This train, southbound MKCFW, was powered by three locomotives: an SD60 / AC6044CW / SD90MAC, adding up to a total of 14,180 horsepower. I found out later that he had a total of 104 cars weighing 10,787 tons and was 7,251 feet in length. At the time that they broke in two, the head end of the train had almost crested the grade, so they had pretty much the entire length (and weight) of the train on the ascending grade behind the power when the drawbar broke on the sixth car.

When a drawbar breaks on the leading end of a car (i.e., the "wrong end") the task of moving the car to set it out is somewhat difficult, because there is no longer anything to couple onto, in order to move the car. There are a number of options for getting things moving again:

a) The railroad will send mechanical department personnel to the location to replace the drawbar on the spot (very time consuming, and not feasible if the car is in an inaccessible location where a repair truck cannot get to it)

b) the crew might be able to use a chain to attach the bad order car to the car in front of it, and pull it ahead to a spur track where it can be set out.

c) the crew on a following train will bring their power up behind the rear portion of the train that broke in two, and will assist that crew by setting out the bad order car from the rear.

Whichever they decided to do, I knew they'd be stopped for a while, so I headed home to get my camera gear and then returned.

By the time I got back, the crew had begun to implement option "b" (described above).
A maintenance-of-way employee assisted them in chaining the bad order car to the car ahead of it, and they succeeded in pulling it past the south end of the Kroger spur switch and then shoved it in the clear. (At least they were close to a spur track when they broke in two!) Then they coupled back onto the remainder of their train, and were just about to get moving when I had to leave to pick up my daughter at school.

  setting out the bad order car   chained up
  traffic waiting   heading back to their train   something's missing
  still stopped   back on the move

The photos I took that day weren't exactly prize-winning shots, but they do illustrate an unusual occurrence on a rail line that I don't usually go out of my way to photograph, even though it's so close to home. And it was interesting to watch... in nine-plus years of train dispatching, I've had a handful of trains on my territory endure drawbar "incidents", and I've heard about and dealt with the after-affects of several others... but I had never seen one in person until last Tuesday. Who would've thought that the first one I'd see would be at the closest grade crossing to my home?


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