RailFan Reports

I have changed the format of this page. If you have a report of your Railfan activities and would like to share them here...please e-mail David Epling and I will put them in and give you credit both at the end of your report, and on the contributors page.


Tuesday, July 13, 1999 1400-2030 UP Observation Report
UP train GETUSD 13 was called on duty at 1200 on Tuesday 7/13 with a Portola crew. These are crews bulletined to operate from Portola to Oakland or Lathrop, depending on the destination of the train from Portola. The train was yarded in the West (former SP) yard. The inbound crew had to double the head end of the train into yard track 2 as the whole train would not fit into track 1 without blocking the lead in front of the old yardmaster's tower. The outbound crew got on, doubled the train together, and had to perform an air test. Not too hard as there was a brakeman on the crew. The air test revealed 2 brakes which failed to release so the car department was notified and help was on the way. This happened to be a day when the PUC was riding along with the car-knockers and the PUC inspector spoke with a crew member and inspected the train on both sides, front to back to front. He wrote down many things. After returning to the head end he talked to the crew again. After he departed, the crew called the East Yard tower and revealed that the PUC had bad-ordered 22 out of 73 cars on the train, so the crew was ordered to "shotgun" the cars out of the train (ace-deuce). The crew patiently went about their work and were finished setting out all the bad-order cars into the yard track furthest from the SP main in the West yard where car-knockers could access the cars from both sides with ease. When they were done, they were notified to tie the train down in track 1 and that another crew would be called to take the train to Portola. These guys were to tie back up for a train the next day. Imagine, all of this because the inbound crew didn't put the power back on the larger portion of the train with the rear end device on it. When will the UP learn to make things easier on itself? If it were up to that crew, the power would have been waiting with the larger portion and only the other cars would have needed an air test. They should see it this way - job security for the extra board, the following crew, the car department, and the PUC inspector.

Roseville Rob


Wednesday, Oct 21, 1998 1400-2030 ACE(Altamont Commuter Express) Trip Report
About 15 people loosely associated with the Northern California RR Club rode ACE Train #2 yesterday, as part of a Bay Area wide "Iron Triangle", on the second day of ACE service.

First step was catching Caltrain at 2:00pm in San Francisco. It was a fairly regular ride to San Jose, except for all the slow orders for grade-separation projects. Special points of interest were in Millbrae, where BART construction crews appear to be mobilizing to begin construction of the Millbrae BART station. In Mountain View, trackage is being laid for the VTA light rail connection next to the Caltrain tracks.

In San Jose, there was a lot of confusion at the ticket counter, because the agent did not have the correct ticket stock for all zones for ACE. We had been forewarned that there might be problems with the Amtrak agents refusing to sell ACE tickets, but the problem was resolved when a messenger arrived with the appropriate ticket stock.

In the 45 minutes in San Jose between trains, three other trains arrived: a NB Caltrain, SB Caltrain, and a SB Capitol. The ACE train backed into the station from the yard at 4:13pm for a 4:15pm departure. Departure was at 4:16pm, with a fairly good load.

At the Great America stop, which is the shuttle bus connection for the Silicon valley employers, the train filled to about 2/3 capacity. ACE uses the Mulford line to Newark, then uses the Centerville line to get to the Fremont stop. Work was in evidence to double-track the Centerville line. A good number of passengers detrained at Fremont (there is no good transit connection between San Jose and Fremont, so ACE really fills niche here). The ACE clientele appeared to be mostly higher-end types - lots of people using cel phones, laptops, etc., but ACE does not seem to have anticipated this with electrical connections at the seats, as other commuter operators have done with newer equipment.

At Niles, we transitioned to the UP's former WP main for the ride through Niles Canyon, and on the Pleasanton and Livermore. At the Livermore stop, LAVTA has constructed an intermodal bus facility next to the ACE stop, but the two are separated by barbed wire fences! There is no way to transfer between the two without walknig about 1/2 mile out to the street and back! At Pleasanton and Livermore fair numbers of people got off.

East of Livermore, we overtook an EB UP freight in the siding, and glided on through Altamont Pass. BTW, I-580, which is the raison d'etre for ACE and is usually at a standstill, looked to be fairly free-flowing.

Dropping down into the Central Valley, we dropped most remaining passengers at Tracy and Lathrop/Manteca, and passed 3 WB UP freights in sidings. ACE stayed on the old WP main all the way into the south end of Stockton, and then transitioned over to the former SP line at the south end of the yard. (Many in our group had expected to switch back to the old SP in Lathrop).

We got held for a few minutes by a BNSF intermodal at Stockton Tower, and then pulled into the ACE station at the former SP station, discharging into the street, because the track to the platform has not been constructed yet. By Stockton, only about 40-50 were left on the train, but not bad for the 2nd day. Some of us were then interviewed by a KQED reporter who was looking for a real commuter!

We walked to dinner at Cancun Restaurant in downtown Stockton, and then against all advice, a group of 4 of us walked the 15 blocks to the Santa Fe station to catch the San Joaquin, when it appeared that the cabs we had called would not come.

The San Joaquin left on time at 8:14pm, and it was a slow ride back because we kept hitting red signals on the BNSF. We stopped for a meet with a BNSF EB near Pittsburg, and made Martinez about 30 minutes late. The train crew reported that #14 was running about 1 1/2 hours late, for those connecting.

Arrival in Emeryville was close to on-time, thanks to padding, and the bus ride back to San Francisco was swift, if not sure. Perhaps in deference to the rail historians aboard, the bus driver let us out at Transbay Terminal, before proceeding to the current Amtrak stop at the Ferry Building.

All in all, ACE seems to be a hit, even on the 2nd day, and there is talk of a third train. IMHO, judging from the number of UP freights we met, something will need to be done about capacity issues over Niles/Altamont if UP is going to agree to this for longer than the 3-year demonstration. Some of the pace seemed leisurely, but this may be a result of padding because of the capacity issues. If the capacity issues could be dealt with, perhaps significant time could be cut from the schedule, which would make it an even more attractive alternative. Let's hope!

Duncan Watry


Monday, Oct 19, 1998 0522-1030 ACE(Altamont Commuter Express) Trip Report
As planned, we ventured out to Livermore Monday morning to watch the historic first run, but alas we were just a couple of minutes too late for a photo. We saw Train 1 as it departed Vasco and chased its tail lights until we lost it at Livermore. We then camped out at the Livermore station for the next hour until Train 3 arrived. KGO Channel 7 was out there doing a live remote. A good number of people showed up to ride, but it sure wasn't hordes like you might expect. Aside from us and the news photogs I didn't see many (any?) fans with cameras. It was a pretty gawdawful hour to be out fanning, I must admit. Roni got what she suspects are a few crummy shots of the train due to the poor light. The ACE officials present wouldn't let us near the platform unless we were buying tickets, which we weren't, so we hung out on one of the lamp post stanchions and leaned over the railing for photos when the train arrived. I got fairly decent video so it wasn't a complete loss.

We then headed east as far as Lathrop, where we hung out near the intermodal facility and got some great shots of a consist that included a Norfolk Southern unit (may have been 9710 or 9210, I can't recall off hand). By the time we got to Stockton around 10:30 we were all too exhausted to do much else.

Glenn & Roni Gehlke


Wednesday, Oct 14, 1998 0522-1826 ACE(Altamont Commuter Express) Trip Report
Our trip today went off without a hitch, Because of problems in Stockton between the railroads, we boarded in Lathrop. The train arrived on Time, was very clean, and for the most part comfortable, I think the seats could be a little softer. It was in pull mode with #3103 on the point.

The train kept it's schedule very well across the board, Seeing how it was dark we weren't able to see much outside of the train until we were around Niles. The one thing I noticed may or may not be a problem down the line as far as security goes, both platforms at Vasco Road and Plesanton are not lit, both are located in areas that in my opinion could be safety problems.

Because of the swiftness in which this trip was laid on, and budget constraints we chose to remain at Diridon and watch the acivity from there. Arrival in San Jose was at 0738, departure was at 1615, during this time (minus a 45 minute break for Lunch, we never did find the Joe's that several people mentioned) we saw a grand total of 29 caltrains, 3 Amtraks, our ACE, and 1 ?, (I will get into that one in a minute).

Now, I pose a Question...How do you confuse an entire platform of passengers? Simple, at 1036 am #11 is due in, at the same time CalTrain #40 also, both headed south. Well here is how.

1...at 1036 a train led by Amtrak 297 (on loan to CalTrain) pulls in to track #5 (same one the Starlight is supposed to be on), Mad scramble by Caltrain Personnal to let people know THIS IS NOT AMTRAK. So #40 led by AMT 297 goes on it's merry way.

2...at 1055 around the corner comes the Starlight.....LED by Caltrain #910, fresh off of rebuild, so now all these people think it is a Caltrain...it was very Humerous. Caltrain crews cut #910 off of the point, AMT 118, 114 now in command. Three notations for this train:

1...I didn't know Amtrak Baggage Cars, were marked "U.S. Mail", this one was.
2...a car marked "Pacific Parlour" looked ex ATSF type. was right behind the sleepers.
3...Private Car "Pine Bluff" brought up the rear of #11.

Now for the ? train, CalTrain #902 headed southbound, pulls in at 1241, the four cars in tow are In this Order...Silver Lounge, Silver Express, Silver Shore, and Silver Chalet...They played with this train for about three hours, first they cut Silver Express out, and placed it on the END of the train, then they did a little more moving back and forth, finally #902 heads north Light at 1410...at 1438 #912 hauls light into the CalTrain yard and runs around these cars, hooks up and shoves them into the House tracks, The train was still there when we left.

Freight Trains....Huh?? well at 1008 a WB manifest with SP 9823, and SP9808 runs through on track #1...then at 1503, a Local led by SP #7661 headed East.

The return trip was the best. upon leaving San Jose, we rode in the Cab Car, myself and another passenger were allowed to ride in the "A" end of Cab Car 3301, meaning we basically rode with the Engineer, the Pilot, and the Attendant, we were able to see the tracks from the engineer's point of View (right hand side though), this was in my opinion the rough equivalent to a Cab ride up the Coast line, Centerville line, and the Canyon Sub.

I learned that Railcrews have an Acronym for us Railfans..."FRN's"...meaning "Freakin Rail Nuts" (freakin wasn't the word, you get the point"), it was interesting to see stuff from the Engineer's POV...like just north of Great America...some Moron decide to WALK HIS BIKE" across the tracks in front of the train...we missed this clown by about 100 feet...I feel for railcrews who face this. I had to doublecheck my pants.

All in All...this is one ride that will never be forgotten, I have nothing but great things to say about ACE, the ride, the Crew...This is one ride that is well worth the experience...especially the Ride home...the view from the cab...thanks ACE, for the service, and the HERZOG crew that allowed us to "ride the Cab".

David and Victoria Epling


Tuesday, Aug 4, 1998 11:00 am Stockton Tower Spent an hour and a half at the Stockton tower this morning, Photographed a BNSF Canyon train using the new interchange from the SP #2 track to the BNSF main. there was a rather intense coordination between the BNSF crew and Dispatcher 56.

D56 issues track and time to BNSF 1015 west at El-Pinal. joint with Maint. of Way. between El-Pinal and Hunter St in Lathrop. BNSF 1015 then crawls on to the new interchange at Church St. then they are held at the new Signal so UP can move two MOW vehicles on the Canyon Sub across the interlocking.

Interesting consist on the 1015 west also...obviously 1015 was leading, folowed by BN 4101 (B30-7A), BNSF(heritage paint) #4265 a B23-7, and the last unit was BN 2736 a GP39-2. Going East up the Canyon Sub was UP 6699 and SP 259 hauling a intermodel. I then left the Tower. on the way home the #2 SP track is Clogged with three trains between El-Pinal and Akers, all three still had crews in them.

David Epling / John Manter


Friday, July 31, 1998 8:06 pm UP Roseville Yard
Northwestern Pacific black-widow units NWP 5305 and NWP 3825 were observed together one box car back from the front of a train tied down at Roseville Yard's East Departure Yard. Both units were facing west and have "OMLX" sub- lettering below the roadnumbers. A locomotive consist had not yet been moved to the head end of the train.

UP Fresno Line - Elk Grove, 9:20 pm SP110 East (solo unit) was stopped in the siding at Elk Grove with a manifest as DRGW3101 West/DRGW3136 rolled through Elk Grove with an empty ballast train from Antelope enroute to Ione Quarry at Edwin on the Ione Branch. Thirty minutes later, two SP GP60s pulled a westbound empty sugar beet train through town at 59 mph. The trackside detector at MP 119.5 directed the crew to stop the train for dragging equipment at axle 11.

PW DeRouen / DM DeRouen


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