Photos from May 18, 2013 at Westmont IL
Wow, what a morning! What started out as a kick back, get a few things done around the house day turned into a mad dash to trackside to catch a horse of a different color, an oil train with a solid set of white tankers. A pretty cool looking train if I say so myself, and something that’s bound to attract taggers like flies, so I’m glad that I caught it still clean and shiny!
When it comes to oil trains the one thing you can always count on is that the cars will be as black as the crude that they haul. Well, not any more, about a month ago small batches of white cars began to appear, followed a few weeks later by reports of a solid train set. Cool! Catching it was another matter, and it wasn’t until a couple days ago that a friend of mine got a line on it and calculated that it would roll west thru Chicago sometime over the weekend. Then came the real challenge; exactly when would this happen! At first it looked like early Sunday morning, not too cool, but then it firmed up to mid morning on Saturday, which meant that by time the BNSF got its act together to forward it west the train would be under good midday light. Perfect! The timing wasn’t set in stone so I was going to have to wait and see what I woke up to in the morning, but I was pretty hopeful.
Saturday morning dawned and not much was up. The latest report had the white train passing Whiting IN around 5:45, but it hadn’t appeared on the BNSF yet, so I moved on to other things. I kept a casual eye on the web since once the train showed up it would be hours before it moved, so it was darn big surprise when I got word just after nine that it was at Cicero! Hey, what happened to sitting at Western Ave until the cows come home? I started getting my act together, a good move because a few minutes later I got a phone call from a friend that the train was on the move and that I had better get my derriere in gear! Say no more, I grabbed my camera and flew out the door!
I landed trackside at Westmont a little after 9:30; I would have preferred a point further east where the light was be better, but nearby Clarendon Hills is a dead zone for my cell, next in line Hinsdale is on my “S” list after a bogus traffic ticket, and I just couldn’t be sure of beating the train anywhere else! The light was hazy and harsh for westbounds, definitely not good, but I had some digital tricks up my sleeve that I hoped would do the trick. I already had a westbound green on M2 so I hustled down to the east end of the platform arriving just in time for headlights to swing around the curve to the east. It was a coalie instead of the white train, so it was down the platform and up to street level to line up a near broadside of the lead unit under the hazy morning light.
09:37 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
BNSF w/b empty unit coal – Train E CXCATM
BNSF 9908 SD70MAC
BNSF 9769 SD70MAC
Hey, cool, a pair of MAC’s! Too bad I didn’t have better lighting, or better framing for that matter, but the latter point was my own fault because I fired a tad too early. My bad, but the photo came out pretty good.
As the coalie rolled by I got a heads up that the white train was right behind it, so I headed for the east side of Cass Ave where I figured that the leafy backdrop of the grade out of Clarendon Hills would make the white tankers pop out from the background clutter. As expected, the wait was a short one:
09:52 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
BNSF w/b empty unit oil – Train U NSDELU
NS 8107 ES44AC
NS 8090 ES44AC
I’m glad that I went the telephoto route, those shots came out just fine while my wide angles were all blown out. No heritage this time, the train was the star of the show, so as soon as I caught the head end I hustled back to the platform area to get a ton of shots of the passing cars.
Bright white and brand new, from what I can figure they were built in April. I have no idea why the shift from black to white; the web is silent on the subject and I have no theories that I can back up with fact, but I sure do appreciate the variety!
The train had a DPU and I was ready for it:
09:56 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
BNSF w/b empty unit oil – DPU
NS 8129 ES44AC
I fired off coming and going shots as it went by. As it cleared the pedestrian crossing to the west a family started across the tracks well before the bells and flashers stopped, a decidedly dumb thing to do because there was an eastbound commuter express lined up to pass on M1, out of sight behind the oil train!
This is how people get killed, and I would have shouted a warning except that I was way down by Cass Ave. Luckily the express was still some distance down the tracks and they made it safely, but the thing is they didn’t know that!
Next up was the commuter express rolling by on M1 due to track work over at Fairview (they were replacing the crossovers this weekend) on M3:
09:58 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
METX e/b commuter express
METX 196 F40PHM-2
METX 193 F40PHM-2
Wow, a morning double header! I got a single shot of the train passing the people waiting for a regular commuter following on its heels.
It looked like my next train was going to be the commuter, I could already see its headlight to the west, so I moved to the north side of the tracks to set up for a people shot of its arrival. That plan lasted only a few moments, a westbound merchandise was on the way and I didn’t want to get caught on the dark side, so it was back to the sunny side just ahead of the gates going down for the commuter:
10:04 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
METX e/b commuter
METX *** unknown
I managed the rather neat trick of not catching any of the waiting passengers in my shot; it made the train look like it was passing thru the Death Zone. Good thing that I moved back to the south platform because the merchandise showed up just as it pulled in:
10:06 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
BNSF w/b merchandise – Train M BRCGAL
BNSF 4627 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 4692 Dash 9-44CW
I caught the train from the upper level of the station area. The train had some wide loads; steel plates strapped to flats just behind the power, steel for future oil tankers perhaps?
The commuter departed as the freight was still rolling by preventing me from getting a unit number.
Just one more train, the inbound Illinois Zephyr was on the way, and just in time because clouds were beginning to roll in.
10:13 a.m. – Westmont IL / Cass Ave
AMT e/b Illinois Zephyr
AMT 26 P42DC
I took this one sitting down, literally; a bench next to the station provided an excellent angle on the train.
With that I called it quits and headed for home. Considering the marginal morning light I’d done well, but I am really looking forward to catching this train under better conditions!
Photos taken on May 2, 2013
It’s said that what goes around comes around, and that definitely applies to the NS heritage units on the BNSF. If they come in on an oil train, they’ll eventually go out on an oil train, and so with a little luck I’ve got two chances. Today I had a lot of luck, one of my personal favorites, NS 8100, the Nickel Plate unit showed up and for once everything clicked. I could sure use more encounters like this!
The train was an eastbound loaded oil, the same train set I’d caught heading west on the 27th. Now that was a good catch, but the 8100 had been playing second fiddle, which for me is more or less just a tag. Then some good news came in, for reasons unknown someone out west shuffled the motive power putting the 8100 on the lead, and even better it was set for a daytime appearance on the triple track! The forecast wasn’t the greatest, mixed sun in the morning with clouds and rain in the afternoon, but who knows, maybe my luck with the train would extend to the weather too; only time would tell.
Morning arrived bringing with it a couple of surprises, the biggest of which was that the train was running ahead of schedule and could be here as early as 9 a.m. rather than the predicted midday. Even better, at the moment the weather looked great, so instead of waiting for the train at home I decided to head out now, catch the after the rush burst of freight action, and then wait for the 8100, which hopefully wouldn’t be more than an hour behind. Sounded cool to me, so I packed my gear and headed for the tracks.
I landed trackside at Forest Ave in Downers Grove just before 8 a.m., a spot chosen for it’s scenery (lots and lots of signal bridges) and open enough to back off for something other than a head on shot if the 8100 showed up on M3. Due to the season the light wasn’t great for westbounds, but since I was after an eastbound I figured that was a cross that I could bear. There were clouds around, in fact a large bank dominated the west, but they were moving due north and not a problem. Things looked good.
The commuter rush was still on, but having photographed it from this spot a number of times I steadfastly ignored it. My first big action of the day was a badly lit outbound Carl Sandburg that in film days I probably would have taken a pass on, but since electrons are free, I decided to give it a go:
08:05 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Forest Ave
AMT w/b Carl Sandburg
AMT 166 P42DC
I fired off two shots, the first one, a telephoto, came out halfway decent, but my attempt at a wide angle was doomed to failure when I unconsciously shifted my angle at the last moment, caught the sun, and torched the exposure! Oh well, it was only electrons!
A few minutes later a commuter popped up to the west on M3 that I ignored until it was joined by a freight over on M2! At first I wasn’t worried about getting blocked out, the commuter had a definite edge in speed and acceleration, but I hadn’t counted on the other train being a hot intermodal; the race was on! First up was the commuter:
08:16 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Forest Ave
METX e/b commuter
METX *** F40PHM-2
I grabbed a shot of it passing under the signal cantilevers, cranked back a bit and hoped that the freight would pop out from behind. I got lucky.
08:17 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Forest Ave
BNSF e/b priority intermodal
BNSF 7878 ES44DC
BNSF 5098 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 1117 Dash 9-44CW
As it turned out there was a comfortable distance between the two trains, a whole ten seconds! This train was really hauling, which explained why the commuter had such a hard time gaining a lead.
The action kept up, even as the end of train was sweeping by, the headlight for yet another freight appeared to the west on M1:
08:22 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Forest Ave
BNSF e/b empty unit fertilizer
NS 9602 Dash 9-40CW
NS 9435 Dash 9-40CW
NS 9573 Dash 9-40CW
NS 9301 Dash 9-40CW
Wow, impressive! I grabbed a couple shots from a sitting position, a mistake because while struggling to stand, which is more or less like a turtle trying to right itself, I accidentally turned off the camera, and missed a signal bridge shot!
That cleared the boards, so I puttered around getting shots of the signal circuit box that’s bound to change in the near future, as well as a small trackside memorial to a young man who recently committed suicide at the crossing. Till now my attention had been focused to the west, so it was a big surprise when I happened to glance east to find clouds overtaking the area! Dang; up to now I had high hopes of clear skies for the Nickel Plate train, but it was pretty obvious that I was going to be SOL for that!
An eastbound commuter express blew past on M3 and then the clouds closed in, unfortunate timing since I had three unit oils (including the Nickel Plate train) and a merchandise headed my way! I was now regretting not dressing warmer, a front had passed thru during the night dropping temps a good thirty degrees and the light weight jacket I’d thrown was not quite enough now that the sun had gone away. At least I was doing better than a lot of other people who were wandering dressed for yesterday’s 80′s; you have to wonder if they ever watched the news.
An eastbound commuter rolled up and I watched with dismay as a guy roared up to the crossing so aggressively that I was sure that he was going to run it! Luckily he pulled up short, but I could see that he was really put out about it, so it gave me great pleasure when a westbound commuter arrived, keeping the gates down, and leaving him steaming. No big surprise, when the gates finally went up he took off with a roar!
The commuters cleared and an eastbound flashing yellow appeared on M3 followed quickly by a headlight to the west. I set up at the crossing to catch the action.
08:58 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Forest Ave
BNSF e/b loaded unit oil
BNSF 9719 SD70MAC
BNSF 6367 ES44AC
BNSF 4365 Dash 9-44CW
To my great delight the sun broke thru the clouds, but then the train turned out to be a slow poke and ended up being clouded out. I had major exposure issues, this was a worst case scenario with a bright background and a shaded out subject and the metering just didn’t handle it well. Too bad the sun didn’t hold up, that Grin green MAC would have looked great even if didn’t have a nose herald.
Another eastbound flashing yellow appeared in the wake of the oil train, so I moved over to Main St where due to the overcast (and a missing commuter fence) I could shoot from the north side of the tracks, vary the view, and lessen the effect of the train’s headlights.
09:17 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b merchandise – H GALBRC
BNSF 5281 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 1044 Dash 9-44CW
Just as the train passed under the Forest Ave signal bridge some faint sun broke thru providing just enough light to perk up the scene and my spirits a bit. Looking east I could see that the clouds were beginning to break a bit, and while they definitely weren’t going away, I could look forward to better light.
I decided that Main St was the place to be; I had an excellent view of the Forest Ave signal bridge, room to back off, and best of all, places to sit; I could almost hear my knees sighing with relief! An eastbound green appeared on M2, I was expecting another oil train but got a Z that had stolen a march!
09:27 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b priority intermodal
BNSF 4192 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 6714 ES44C4
Wow, the sun came out and I got some great “storm light” shots! It was just a hole in the clouds but it was all that was needed. Great!
I kicked back in front of the depot where I could keep an eye on things. The clouds came back (“Boo! Hiss!) but they definitely weren’t as all encompassing as before. A big MoW crew showed up down by Washington St, after a while I figured out that they were re-installing the commuter fence, a definite bummer since I really enjoyed having it out of the way, and lighting a fire under me to get shots around the station before they finished!
Things got busy. An eastbound green appeared on M3, could be for a freight, could be for a commuter; I was leaning towards freight since I knew that a couple more were on the way. Then a complication; a commuter appeared to the east. Normally not a problem, but in this case I was hoping to catch my next eastbound from the north side of the tracks, and the commuter might get in the way. I kept an eye to the west, and of course just as the commuter started its final run a headlight appeared on M2! I said a couple interesting words before realizing that it was the local headed for Pepperidge Farm, and wouldn’t go by until the next eastbound commuter passed. This was actually good news since once they got over to Pepperidge they would be blocking M3 and forcing all the action, including the Nickel Plate train onto M2! Woo-hoo, definitely a best case scenario short of the sun coming out.
The westbound commuter went past; I skipped getting a photo due to the blah weather. By now I was convinced that the westbound green on M3 was for the next commuter, so of course a freight showed up!
09:47 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b road freight
BNSF 4873 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 6800 ES44C4
BNSF 976 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 9793 SD70MAC
I had absolutely no luck with the sun and caught a dark shot of the train passing the Main St crossing signal circuit box. I sure hoped that things would be better when the Nickel Plate train showed up!
Next up was the eastbound commuter that I had been expecting, and of course the sun came out for that! No photo, I simply couldn’t come up with an angle that interested me enough to stand! I was a lot more inspired by the local, which got on the move as soon as the commuter cleared the block:
09:57 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b local
BNSF 2903 GP39-2R
BNSF 2321 GP38-2
The train headed east and crossed from M2 to M3 to work Pepperidge Farm buoying my hopes that I’d have a good chance of catching the Nickel Plate train on M2! Only time would tell.
In the mean time an eastbound green appeared on M1 for the Illinois Zephyr. Sadly by time it showed up the clouds were back and the sun had deserted me:
10:05 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
AMT e/b Illinois Zephyr
AMT 169 P42DC
Just a single shot from in front of the station more or less to celebrate my last few minutes of freedom from the commuter fence!
An eastbound green appeared on M2 after the local cleared, undoubtedly for a freight but not MY freight since I knew that there was at least one more train ahead of it. I only had a short wait:
10:17 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b loaded unit oil
BNSF 4934 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 9325 SD70ACe
BNSF 6126 ES44AC
I caught a series as the train passed under the Forest Ave signal bridge and then crossed Main St. Too bad the sun wasn’t out or that ACe was leading!
The train cleared and I began to dither; the local had gone east with just a single car and I was beginning to worry that they’d finish up, clearing the way for the Nickel Plate train to pass on tight to the platform M3. Luck was with me, apparently the local had to do a bit of shuffling to deliver their car, and they were still at it when an eastbound green appeared on M2. Even better the sun seemed to be trying to break thru, was I going to get double lucky? Finally the wait was over, headlight to the west, the Nickel Plate train was on the way!
10:26 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF e/b loaded unit oil
NS 8100 ES44AC
NS 8028 ES44AC
BNSF 6807 ES44C4
I did not get the full sun I’d been hoping for, and it was probably for the best because the hazy light did a fine job of illuminating the 8100 without shadows. What a great looking motor! I’d really enthused about it when it was first released and despaired about ever getting a photo. Thank you Bakken oil field boom!
The train cleared and it was obvious that its timing could not have been any better as the local immediately headed west clearing M3 for action.
Surprisingly they didn’t have any cars in tow, unusually they return with an empty or two.
At this point it was all over except for the shouting, but since the sky had cleared a bit I decided to hang tight for a while. Between the sun and my good mood I was even moved to shoot the next commuter.
10:48 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
METX e/b commuter
METX 188 F40PHM-2
Just a couple quick shots and I as off to move my car which was reaching the three hour limit for where I’d parked. I wasn’t sure how vigorously Downers Grove pursued parking tickets (La Grange, Naperville and Lisle sure do) but I wasn’t going to risk a $40 ticket to find out. The move wasn’t far, just from one side of the tracks to another, but hopefully it would give me enough time to catch an inbound unit coal with an ACe leading that I’d heard about.
Back to trackside. Time passed and I caught a BNSF highrailer being launched over at Forest Ave on M2, which then backed west a bit to do some heavy lifting; thank goodness they didn’t get an earlier start!
The headlight for a freighter popped up to the east, and despite the fact that it was closing in on midday the light for it was so poor that I set up at the corner of Main and Burlington to catch broadside of the lead motor as it hit the grade crossing:
10:55 a.m. – Downers Grove IL / Main St
BNSF w/b merchandise
BNSF 4678 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 4306 Dash 9-44CW
BNSF 7113 ES44C4
HBRY **** SD50
Since I was shooting a tight broadside I had absolutely no warning of the Hudson Bay Railway SD50, which was probably headed for the Illinois Railway. The sight of it so discombobulated me that I screwed up the number reading even though I had the tape recorder in hand. All I can remember is that there was a 5 and a 0 and a 1, but I can’t remember if it was the 5001 or the 5010! It was pretty cool to see even if I didn’t get a photo.
The ever changeable weather had another shift in mood and the clouds moved back in knocking back my enthusiasm for waiting on the coal train, which for some reason seemed to be hung up out at Eola. Finally it got toe the point that I decided that lunch was more important than catching cloudy day shot of an ACe, so I packed up and headed home firmly convinced that I was thru for the day, but as you will see in Part II, never assume anything!
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