Tuesday, August 21, 2012

After showering and uploading my trip photos to Facebook I headed north to photograph operations at the new Kashwitna gravel pit. I stopped at the McDonald's to pick up some breakfast and saw a grungy looking man sitting on a stool holding a sign which read, "Homeless. Need help." As I exited the drive-thru I saw the car in front of me stop and hand two bags of McDonalds food to the homeless man. I said to myself, "That was nice of her to do that. I bet he really appreciated getting that food!"

On past trips I had toured both AS&G and QAP's gravel pit so I was really looking forward to seeing the new QAP Kashwitna gravel pit operations. I met my entry escort at the main road turn-off and followed him to the pit. I was then handed off to a second escort who ensured I was wearing all the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and then put me in a safe area where I could take photos to my heart's delight. It wasn't long before I heard the adrenaline-surging sound of an SD70MAC whistle. Moments later the train appeared and soon was rumbling like an earthquake underneath my feet. I saw one of the workers walking the entire consist checking to make sure the bottom discharge chutes were closed.

To ensure the quickest turn-around time, front loaders dump gravel into the hopper cars while the others are loaded from the tipple. The train also uses distributed power locomotives, one at each end of the consist. This eliminated the need for the locomotives to be cut off at one end and then run around via the mainline to the opposite end. If all goes well, the gravel train can leave Anchorage, get filled at Kashwitna and return to Anchorage using just one 12-hour crew.

A casual observer might notice the hopper cars are not filled to the brim and wonder the reason. In actuality, each car can only be filled to the maximum weight it is permitted to carry.

The Kashwitna siding is one of the longest on the railroad at 10,519 feet and can accommodate 100-car trains. However, current operations call for 86-car trains due to the limitations off the processing facility in Anchorage. QAP estimates an output of one million tons per year and the pit should provide 50 years of service from its reserves.

Once the train was fully loaded and on its way the sun came out! Unfortunately my photos didn't have the best lighting, but I learned long ago that you gotta play the cards you're dealt.


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Gravel is mined and then placed on a conveyor which adds it to the huge cone-shaped pile A conveyor then delivers the gravel to a pile in front of a mechanical loader "I hear the train a comin', she's a rollin' around the bend." - Johnny Cash
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Train cars start on the main (far right) then to the siding (right) and then the pocket track (middle) A front loader speeds the loading of the gravel train (looking south) A front loader speeds the loading of the gravel train (looking north)
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Gravel pours down the chute..... and into the waiting hopper car. Loaded hopper cars
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Another view of the loading The operator keeps a close eye on the operations The "blue sky" view as I was leaving

And here's the video:

As I drove out of the QAP facility, a little birdie called on my cell phone to let me know the railroad was running a special train this afternoon from Seward to Anchorage for the National Speakers Association (NSA). It would also include the Aurora railcar. Since I still had a little time before this train reached Portage I picked up lunch at Burger King as well as a few nearby geocaches. The sun was out in all its glory and the drive along Turnagain Arm turned out to be absolutely stunning.

When I got to TwentyMile I heard the approaching train. I immediately pulled off the road, grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. I caught the Glacier Discovery just as it crossed the bridge. After the train passed, I backtracked and took the gravel road leading to the base of the bridge. Not long after exiting the car, the charter train came into view. The upward angle plus blue skies made for some very nice photos. I continued to follow the train up the arm, snapping photos as I went. As a added bonus I was lucky enough to see a half dozen para-sailers plus numerous spouting whales on the inlet. Coincidentally, Dave Blazejewski and Frank Keller were in the area as well taking pictures. I met Dave Blazejewski at Bird Point where I got one more round of photos of the special train.

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John Muir would have absolutely love this place! Glacier Discovery at TwentyMile Charter train at TwentyMile
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Charter train at TwentyMile #2 Lake, trees, mountains, blue skies....beautiful! Popping out of the trees
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Light and shadow playing along the mountainside Aurora #2000 railcar Charter train near Bird Point

By the time I got back to Pat Durand's home in Wasilla it was 11:00 PM. I found all the lights were out and figured everyone had gone to bed. I crept around the back of the house and entered his camper, finding it cozy and warm. No blankets would be needed tonight.

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