Rerouted Southwest Chief
December 30-31, 2006
The local weather forecasts for the end of the week suggested that the persistent Low Pressure system would depart the Albuquerque area by Friday. However, the system seemed to stall itself, and by Friday evening, they had closed the airport, I-25 from ALBQ to Colorado, I-40 East to Amarillo, and US 60 from Belen to at least Clovis.
We were to return home on Saturday's #4 (east bound Southwest Chief). One of our concerns was getting to I-25 from Alamogordo. Normally we go up US 54 to Carrizozo and head west on US-380, a lightly traveled 2-laner with 65MPH allowed. I decided before arising that we would leave 2hrs early and use US-70, a 4-lane divided, via Las Cruces to reach I-25. Either way we had to go over the mountains to get out of the Tularosa Basin. Upon arising, we found that Alamogordo had gotten 2 inches of snow with the snow continuing to fall. However, the roads were only wet.
We were able to run up to 80mph (75 allowed) until we reached the grade for San Agustin Pass. Whereas the snow had ceased about 40 miles out of Alamogordo, the grade was snow-packed, but not impassible. On the other side of the pass, we saw blue sky to the southwest towards Deming. We had 223 miles to go to reach Albuquerque. Again, the 75MPH enabled us to make time, however, by the point where we caught up to US-380 (San Antonio), we encountered snow. One driving lane was wet and the other partially snow packed.
Gas up and breakfast at Los Lunas. Main Roads mostly melted.
We had to drop off out Budget Rental at the airport. Upon reaching the lot, we found it un-plowed and basically abandoned. A customer ahead of us was stuck. A phone call to the rep who got us our car went unanswered. A call to the 800# suggested we turn in the car to another location which MAY be open. I am not sure what part of ALBUQUERQUE IS SHUT DOWN this person did not understand? We took the keys to the shack and left them by the computer and headed for the terminal. We found a situation much like Denver may have been at Christmas (and maybe to a lesser extent in Denver on DEC. 30th). We noted long lines at the reservation/check in counters. There were no cabs to be seen, so we were able to get through to the Yellow Cab people, and they dispatched a cab for us. The ride downtown was uneventful. En-route, I called Julie and learned that there was a service disruption. I was unable, however, to learn what that entailed, and envisioned us spending some time in Albuquerque.
Upon arrival, there were a lot of people in the station, and the agent advised that #4 was running and would be on-time departing. Beth and I waited outside, and soon the #4 backed in from the south. I told her that it looks like we will be headed east out of Belen, and indeed, that was what transpired. A call to Pete Stonitsch verified the routing and the stops along the way. Apparently the 800-USA-RAIL staff had little knowledge as to what was going on, as fellow passengers told us of bad information received. Calls from shuttle services and calls direct to the Albuquerque station advised them of the re-route and locations where service would not be provided. We learned that the train was sold out at L/A, however those destined for Lamy-Hutchinson were advised that there would be no service and that they were on their own beyond Albuquerque. Another passenger said that 250 were supposed to board at Raton, having been bussed down from Denver, which had its own problems.
With all that had transpired, we were just happy to be on board.
Departure was at 1305, and the run down to Belen was slow, perhaps because of pending westbound (mainline) traffic that had to clear at Belen. We waited perhaps 15 minutes to enter the main and get out of town.
Leave Belen @ 1355. Meet #3 @ 1511hrs between Mountainaire and Willard with BNSF unit leading. We had two AMTRAK's, with the 87 leading, the whole way.
US 60, which parallels the BNSF was reportedly closed, however we noted some traffic in both directions. The highway was in reasonable shape in some locations, but between Willard and Vaughn, it was snow-covered. We noted about 40 vehicles stopped heading east, then saw a semi blocking the road and 40 or so vehicles heading west. This was at least 40 miles from anywhere. We went by at 70MPH on what was very smooth track.
Leave Clovis at 1807hrs. Because the platforms on this route (Vaughan, Clovis, Amarillo) had been taken up, we were not allowed to detrain at stopping points: Belen, Clovis, Amarillo, Wellington. At each crew/pilot change point, less than five minutes was consumed.
Train handling was excellent. Other than time spent getting on the mainline at Belen, we had NO freight interference from Belen to CA Junction east of Kansas City. There were two east bound (shooter and general) freights waiting for us at Abo Canyon and one shooter at the east end of the Canyon heading west.
We'd have likely been on time into Amarillo had it not been for a serious fatal crossing incident on the west side of Amarillo. A van at the grade crossing was hit from behind by a truck, unable to stop on the ice covered road. We were 3rd or 4th in line to pass by on the one track that was open. We left Amarillo at around 2140hrs.
Leave Wellington at 0349hrs - leave Topeka at 0651 hrs and Kansas City at 0905hrs.
We arrived at Chicago Union Station at 1640 hrs, and were first out the doors, enabling us to make our 1708 connection to Sturtevant.
We had excellent service on #3/4. Good thing the BNSF was running things. What would it have been had this been on the UP???