Caliente Traffic Jam—Traffic in the Tehachapis.

Having been stuck in a few Los Angeles area-tailbacks lately, I’ll say, it’s no fun. However, when the railroad gets jammed, it can make for some bountiful photographic opportunities.

Union Pacific owns and dispatches the old Southern Pacific route over the Tehachapis, yet BNSF (operating on a trackage rights arrangement inherited from the Santa Fe ) runs the lion’s share of the traffic. The mix of UP and BNSF plus outstanding scenery and blazing sun have the stage set.

To adapt a hackneyed Hollywood phrase; ‘Light, cameras, action . . .’

On this late July afternoon UP wasn’t having a good day. One of its northward trains developed braking problems descending near Cable and northward trains began to stack up behind it, including the BNSF ‘Earthworm’ unit grain train that we’d photographed earlier in the day (see: The Earthworm and a Joshua Tree)

UP’s southward trains hadn’t faired much better; as a very heavy manifest had struggled upgrade at a walking pace adding to more congestion.

By evening, UP’s northward train had reached Caliente, where it held the mainline short of the first intermediate signal (as instructed by the dispatcher),while a BNSF southward manifest was in the siding.

More southward trains were coming behind this train, as the loaded northward earthworm crawled downgrade and stopped at the pit of the Caliente horseshoe, short of the grade crossing.

Gridlock!

Three trains at Caliente and nothing moving. Furthermore, a pair of UP Z-trains were making a meet at Cliff.

At this point it was like shooting fish in a barrel, to use another handy cliché, and the evening light was only getting better.

Stay tooned! 😉

Trains on all tracks and nothing moving; UP DPUs on the back of a northward freight on the mainline, a BNSF northward train in the siding, while on the upper level of the horseshoe is the BNSF 'Earthworm' grain train, with its headend holding on the opposite side of the grade crossing 180 degrees behind me.
Trains on all tracks and nothing moving; UP DPUs on the back of a northward freight holding  the mainline, a BNSF northward train in the siding, while on the upper level of the horseshoe is the BNSF ‘Earthworm’ grain train, with its headend holding on the opposite side of the grade crossing  behind me.
Head-end of the Earthworm grain train. Just standing there in warm California sun. I think Kodak exited the Kodachrome business too soon!
Head-end of the Earthworm grain train. Just standing there in warm California sun. I think Kodak exited the Kodachrome business too soon!
Finally, the BNSF Earthworm gets a signal. Here's today's photo lesson. By shifting the focus from the locomotives to the ballast in the foreground I've altered the natural perspective. Essentially, I'm tricking the eye into looking down and this makes the scene seem more like a diorama. Of course you may need to view this image larger than 3x5 inches to get the full effect.
Finally, the BNSF Earthworm gets a signal. Here’s today’s photo lesson: By shifting the focus from the locomotives to the ballast in the foreground I’ve altered the natural perspective. Essentially, I’m tricking the eye into looking down and this focus combined with the pastel lighting makes the scene seem more like a diorama. Of course you may need to view this image larger than 3×5 inches to get the full effect.
Ok, enough playing around, here I've focused on the main event and the rails have been to squeal.
Ok, enough playing around, here I’ve focused on the main event as the rails have begun to squeal.
Looking railroad timetable north (formerly  this was west under the old SP timetable); The earthworm descends toward Bakersfield.
Looking railroad timetable north (formerly this was west under the old SP timetable)  the earthworm descends toward Bakersfield.
First set of DPUs (distributed power units—railroad speak for un-manned radio-controlled remotely-placed locomotives.)
Here we have the first set of DPUs (distributed power units—railroad speak for un-manned radio-controlled remotely-placed locomotives.)
And a new BNSF GE-built Tier IV works as a second set of DPUs at the back of the grain train.
And a new BNSF GE-built Tier IV works as a second set of DPUs at the back of the grain train.
Some quick driving to a pre-selected overlook granted me a final view of the Earthworm as it rolls along Caliente Creek. Who said, 'you can't have your cake and eat it'?
Some quick driving to a pre-selected overlook granted me a final view of the Earthworm as it rolls along Caliente Creek. Who said, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’?

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One thought on “Caliente Traffic Jam—Traffic in the Tehachapis.”

  1. For the record, O.J. Simpson was a Los Angeles area tailback. In this country, where you are from by the way, we call them traffic jams.

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