Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Today's Train of Thought- Austin City Limits, September 9th, 2014
Today's Train of thought takes us to one of WATCO's properties in the Lone Star state- the 155 mile Austin Western.
The Central Texas shortline got off to a pretty inauspicious start in 2007 when one of their freight trains derailed on East 6th street in Austin, TX just days after WATCO assumed operations on former the Union Pacific (nee- Cotton Belt) trackage in Llano, Bastrop, Travis and Lee counties. Between 2001 and 2007, much of the current Austin Western line in and around Austin was operated by the Austin Area Union Terminal.
While not WATCO's first Texas venture, the line was destined to be a handful for whoever was going to operate it once the Union Pacific divested. Parts of the line around the Austin area are actually owned by the Capital Metro Transportation Rail Authority, which operates commuter rail some 30 miles in and out of the Lone Star State's capital city. While this meant the Austin Western benefitted from improved track speeds and maintenance of way, since 2010 the Capital Metro Rail's schedule means that most of the AWRR's activities in Austin have to be nocturnal to accommodate commuter trains.
Additionally, the ex-UP line from Austin Jct. east to Elgin, Butler and Giddings were plagues by occasional derailments before WATCo took over operations in 2007. Parts of the line are still jointed rail, despite the fact that heavy unit aggregate trains frequently originate from the CCI facility in Butler. Interchange is with the Union Pacific in Elgin and McNeil, TX.
Even with some of the restrictions that come from nighttime-only operating and the antiquated jointed rail, the AWRR enjoys a pretty diverse traffic base- hauling anything from beer, calcium bicarbonate, paper, chemicals, crushed limestone, plastics, aggregates, chicken feed and lumber. In fact, the AWRR also handles the PT Barnum and Bailey circus train when the show comes to town- although that's apparently confined to nocturnal operations as well.
Here, railpictures.net contributor JR Leal caught Austin Western GP50 #5001 trundling through downtown Elgin, TX with a carload of chicken waste on a sunny September 8, 2013 with the Butler Turn as it gets ready to hammer the UP diamond in town. Leal points ut that the town of Elgin at the time was busying itself getting ready for the Elgin Hogeye Festival, which boasts a BBQ cook-off, live music, arts and crafts as well as a car show. Between the hot central Texas temperatures and the train's no doubt fragrant cargo, it's probably for the best that particular day's Butler Turn was pretty short.