Unit Frac Sand Trains Ply Union Pacific’s Peoria Subdivision (Revised)

The boom in oil and natural gas production, thanks to hydraulic fracturing, has generated much new traffic for America’s railroads. But not just crude oil shipped to refineries or bulk storage facilities. Resin-coated sand is a major commodity hauled by railroads for “fracking.” So is steel drilling pipe, chemicals, cement and wastewater. Railroads have spent hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) increasing capacity to accommodate this significant new business.

Unit frac sand trains have been plying Union Pacific’s Peoria Subdivision off and one for more than a year, but I encountered one for the first time Sunday afternoon.

The 95-car train shown in the video (at Mendenhall Road south of Bartonville) was loaded at New Auburn, Wisconsin where Chieftain Sands and Great Northern Sands rail loadouts are served by the Wisconsin Northern Railroad.

– David P. Jordan

Locomotive, 6 Cars Derailed in Pekin (Updated 2x)

March has been a bad month for area railroads. Engine failures, bad freight car wheels…and now a serious derailment.

Last night, the Illinois & Midland Railroad overturned a locomotive and derailed 11 cars in Pekin Thursday night. You can view three photos starting here.

The photos were taken in the dark, but the background makes me think this occurred near Aventine Renewable Energy. The locomotive involved was either No. 30 or 31, each an EMD RS1325 of 1960 vintage. Covered hoppers and tank cars were derailed and/or lying on their sides.

I’ll update as I learn more.

UPDATE: TRAINS Magazine’s News Wire has a story on last night’s derailment. The derailment happened as the local crew was switching cars on an industrial lead by Crystal Lake, southwest of Pekin. The locomotive, IMRR 30, apparently sustained minor damage after rolling on its side, but several freight cars appear to have major damage.

UPDATE (X2): I took this photo about 4:30 Friday afternoon. Apparently, IMRR 30 had just been righted back on the rails. Note derailed cars in background.

IMRR032814A - Copy

– David P. Jordan

Bad Monday for BNSF’s Peoria Local

With few exceptions, railroads operate 24/7/365, and BNSF Railway is no exception. That railroad’s manifest freight train network can appear to be as busy on Sunday as on Wednesday or Friday. But local train service may be weekday-only, or daily-except-Sunday.

BNSF’s Peoria Local (officially L-CHI107, or just “107”) is a weekday train, and when the week’s first run leaves Galesburg on Monday afternoon, it typically handles three days’ worth of traffic. Shorter trains are the rule the other four days (westbound traffic out of Peoria doesn’t necessarily follow this rule).

So Monday, March 24, 2014 should have been like any other day. Unfortunately, the second of two locomotives died. As a consequence, the 63-car train stalled on the dip between Douglas and Yates City. This forced the crew to pull part of the train to a siding at Yates City, go back for the rest of the train and put them together.

Monday’s trouble wasted a lot of time. The train left Galesburg at 1:30 in the afternoon, but didn’t arrive Peoria, 50 miles away, until nearly seven hours later! The above video was taken at Edwards about 7:41pm. Train had 36 loads – mainly New Mexico and Saskatchewan potash and molten petroleum asphalt – 26 empties and a company ballast car.

– David P. Jordan

Iowa Interstate And Norfolk Southern Maintain Peoria Gateway

Two months have passed since the Iowa Interstate Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railway began interchanging unit ethanol trains and increased carload freight at Peoria instead of Chicago. So it with good reason to conclude that this will be a long-term, regular pattern, and not a temporary fix for the severe winter-induced operational meltdown railroads were forced to endure.

There is one major, underlying reason for using Peoria as an interchange point: lack of capacity to accommodate traffic growth. The Iowa Interstate (IAIS) operates between Chicago and Council Bluffs with major branches to Peoria and Cedar Rapids (via the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway). But the IAIS relies on trackage rights to reach its Chicago-area terminal (a portion of the former Rock Island Burr Oak Yard). Between Utica and Joliet, regular through freights CBBI and BICB, unit ethanol trains and frequent extras must dodge several switch engines working industries on CSX Transportation’s “New Rock Subdivision.” From Joliet east, trackage is owned by Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (Metra), so IAIS freight trains were limited by the weekday morning and afternoon commuter rush.

The IAIS saw its annual traffic grow 50 per cent from about 2002 to 2006, the year it handled 74,000 carloads. Several ethanol facilities and one biodiesel plant had begun construction on-line and by 2011, the railroad predicted its annual traffic would grow another 50 per cent to as much as 125,000 carloads. Since much of the ethanol loaded at these plants (Council Bluffs, Menlo, Cedar Rapids and Annawan) would be handled in unit trains bound for eastern points, this added business would tax the railroad’s capacity going into Chicago.

The IAIS was already interchanging coal trains, grain trains (suspended for now) and a small volume of carload freight with Norfolk Southern via the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad (TZPR), so it made sense to shift more traffic this way, thus freeing up capacity on the Chicago route for other business.

Each week since late-January, the IAIS has been delivering at least three ethanol trains to NS while NS has been delivering to the IAIS at least three manifest trains (called “115”) and occasional empty unit ethanol trains. Eastbound carload freight is combined with the ethanol trains while on the IAIS, but moves in regular freight train service when on the NS.

Carload freight includes phosphoric acid, scrap cardboard and coil steel moving from NS to IAIS. Traffic moving from IAIS to NS includes corn starch, corn syrup, gluten meal and feed.

Now to the video (see above). Sunday afternoon, I caught this westbound empty ethanol train called “65Q.” The NS crew ran the train into the TZPR’s East Peoria Yard, Track A-41, cut off their power and coupled onto an eastbound loaded ethanol train brought in earlier by the IAIS. A single Iowa Interstate ES44AC led the empty ethanol train north that evening. Scenes are at the Farmdale Trestle on NS rails, the TZPR’s Farm Creek truss bridge and entering Track A-41 in the East Peoria Yard.

– David P. Jordan

The Bridge Junction Shuffle

Friday evening, I witnessed something a bit unusual.

Unfortunately, I don’t know all that went on and why, but what I did hear (thanks to my handy Radio Shack scanner) and see, was interesting nonetheless.

Here’s what I know. A TP&W train (probably the “Day Switcher”) was bringing grain loads to ADM’s South Yard on the River Track just downriver from the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s (TZPR) Illinois River Bridge. The train’s locomotive, TPW 5008 (a Frisco-vintage GP50 from 1980) developed a problem that apparently rendered it unable to pull a long train.

Per radio chatter, a swap was set up with the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s Industry Job, which was returning from a trip to the city’s north valley. All it had was Illinois & Midland Railroad (IMRR) SW-1500 No. 43 and a Komatsu truck chassis load. The TP&W crew would finish its work with IMRR 43 and the TZPR crew would take that single Komatsu load to East Peoria with TPW 5008.

What you see in the video below starts as the TZPR crew backs TPW 5008 into the Komatsu load while the TP&W crew, aboard IMRR 43, was preparing to pull 26 grain loads from ADM’s South Yard, through the connection and out past Sanger St.

While I was filming IMRR 43 in action, TPW 5008 crossed the river and left the Komatsu load in the East Peoria Yard close to the Cedar Street Extension. I never learned exactly what problem had befallen the engine.

– David P. Jordan

My First 2014 Encounter With BNSF’s Peoria Local!

BNSF Railway’s regular, weekday Galesburg-East Peoria-Galesburg local, officially called L-CHI107, and nicknamed the “Peoria Local” or just “107,” usually arrives here in the late afternoon or early evening. After delivering its short consist to the Tazewell & Peoria RR (occasionally they’ll switch Caterpillar’s Rubber Processing Facility at 2400 SW Washington St. first) and coupling onto its outbound train, the local will return west.

Frequently, other traffic (mainly coal trains) requires the local to wait in a siding at Peoria (“New Long” on the south edge), Edwards or Gilson. Such delays often eat up the crew’s Hours-Of-Service (12), forcing them to tie up before completing their roundtrip.

Since this activity occurs near or during the evening hours, operations tend to be under the cover of darkness in late fall and through most of the winter. One exception is Christmas Week, when operations are limited, and/or are handled by extraboard crews during daylight hours. For much of 2013, it seemed that L-CHI107 ran much later in the day and left Peoria after sunrise. This month (or earlier), the train was back to running at an earlier time.

The headline of this post is a bit misleading. It refers to yesterday’s sighting. Yet I actually saw the train with my own eyes on Tuesday, March 11. It was entering the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s East Peoria Yard, so I was too late to get any video or photos.

So it didn’t count.

But I did see it Wednesday evening. After hearing the TZPR dispatcher give “107” permission to enter his railroad at Darst St. and run across the river, I intercepted the train at Greenlawn Street and took the video below.

– David P. Jordan

Late Friday Afternoon at Farmdale Trestle

Winter is ending, and I never forgot that longer days and heavier train traffic are good things.

And I got lucky on Friday afternoon. A little before 5:00, a friend called to tell me that a westbound Toledo Peoria & Western freight was just entering Eureka. These trains usually run at night, but through the end of this month, are on a winter daylight schedule.

I was already downtown so I decided to cross the river and wait for the train. I had no way of knowing if it was going to stop and work the Grainland Coop elevator at Cruger, but I wasn’t going to Washington and risk passing the train when the tracks were out if sight.

I made the correct decision, and was rewarded with another train. I’d just made it to the Farmdale Trestle when radio chatter indicated that a late-running Norfolk Southern eastbound Train D46 had just cleared P&PU Jct. (the TZPR-TP&W line of control east of N. Main Street in E. Peoria). See below.

The NS train was a short 21 cars, but ten of them were from the Iowa Interstate, representing the recent shift in traffic flow that emphasizes the Peoria Gateway. The first car, an ADM pressure differential covered hopper (probably containing corn starch)and four corn syrup tank cars behind it, were from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Three covered coil steel cars (all empty) could’ve been from any one of about three steel warehouses served by the IAIS. Those two empty NS hoppers on the rear were likely bad ordered, repaired and continued their journey in regular freight service. The other cars – ten alcohol loads and an empty gondola – were likely from Peoria-area industries.

About 45 minutes later, the TP&W westbound showed up with three locomotives all facing “long-hood forward.”  See below.

The first 25 cars were corn loads that had come off shortline Kankakee Beaverville & Southern at Webster, Illinois (just west of Sheldon). The other 26 cars were mixed freight from various on-line industries and connections.

– David P. Jordan

NRG Energy Closer To Acquiring Midwest Generation Plants

The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc’s deal to acquire the assets and operating companies of Edison Mission Energy for $2.6 billion can move forward after a bankruptcy court gave its approval. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval is the final hurdle in the deal, and a decision is expected by the end of the first quarter (March 31).

If and when the FERC makes its decision, NRG Energy will become the new owner of the large Midwest Generation LLC Powerton Station southwest of Pekin. Served by the Illinois & Midland Railroad, coal trains arrive daily on the Union Pacific.

– David P. Jordan

PeoriaStation’s Greatest Hits : The Train and the Rabbit

The old PeoriaStation (2008-2013) is gone, and with it, hundreds of posts dedicated to local commercial aviation and rail transportation, both current and historical. So I thought I’d revisit old posts.

The first is this video I shot May 16, 2012 of Norfolk Southern’s D46 rolling eastbound through Carlock, Illinois enroute to Good Yard in Normal. This “Tractor Day” train had one more surprise – the rabbit that decided to cross the tracks, then changes its mind when it realized the train is coming!

– David P. Jordan