Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CREATE: B2, B3, B4 and B5

CREATE projects B2 and B3 improve the connection between the IHB and UP/C&NW/Galena&Chicago. To better understand what the projects did, I verified that the images are old enough to provide a "before" picture.

That means that they are older than September, 2009, because that is when the B3 project was completed.This project double tracked the connection between the CNW Proviso Yard and the IHB to feed a new fourth track on the IHB.
I can't figure out how to remove the labels when I zoom in on the bird's-eye view, so the image to the right is the highest resolution I can get without labels.

I compared Bing's roadmap with Google's roadmap to confirm Google is accurate at high resolutions concerning track layout, but Bing is not. Note that Bing missed the old connection between CNW and IHB (the curved track in the closeup on the right). Even with the label lines in the way, you can see that the IHB has only three tracks crossing the CNW. In fact, you can see the expanded bridge abutments for the fourth track and one of the spans for the new bridge.

I discovered that the Bing maps in FlashEarth do allow you to display the maps without labels, but this version is the same up-to-date images that the other satellite sites use. But the labeled version still has errors because it is now missing both the old and the new connections. (Google's road map shows both connections.)

I don't understand this project. The writeup said the old connection blocks the IHB mainline. But the mainline has 3 tracks. There don't seem to be many yards north of this connection. Is there really more traffic than 2 tracks could handle? And why does the IHB have to run its trains so slowly? A northbound IHB train was going so slow that I quit taking a video of it and switched to taking pictures. Increasing the speed would not only reduce the time a freight car spends in Chicago, it would increase the capacity of the IHB tracks. Surely the slow speed is not because the IHB skimps on track maintenance. Proper track maintenance has got to be cheaper than building another bridge. Furthermore, the mainline is down to just 3 tracks anyhow soon after the new track is across the bridge. So does a few hundred feet of length really help that much? I noticed that the this project description page does not include the cost of the project.

Below is the bridge that was built by the B2 project. According to an ASCE article, the project was completed in September, 2013.

20141025 0102c
Below is a newer version of the first map above to illustrate the B2 project.

I marked up the above image with a red line to highlight the new connection.

This $83 milllion project does make sense. If you look at the first satellite image at the top of this page, you will see that freight trains leaving the IHB using the old connection had to travel on the bottom track for a few blocks before it took the S-curve connection up to the freight yards. And the new track reduces the incline of the connector because the rise is now spread across the relatively long east-west section.

That bottom track is the track used by the commuter trains. I caught a freight train on the connector while I was there, and I learned that the UP also runs it trains slowly. (Around 2:50 in the video another freight appears on the lower yard lead.)
Since this track is just a year old, it should not be running slow because of bad tracks. Is it because of the sharp curves? Because the freight trains are so slow? If a commuter train is blocked by a slow freight movement, it could incur a significant delay. This freight flyover removes a commuter train being blocked by a freight train.

Flickr from John W. Barriger III IHB Album
Bob Lalich 5y 
Overpass of CNW mains and connection to Proviso.

Carlos Ferran posted four photos with the comment: "Yesterday was a good day if you were on the Harbor/Proviso. A UP manifest had quite the lashup that afternoon, consisting of a UP SD70M, CSX C40-8W, and two former BHP Billiton SD70ACe's. They departed Proviso last night on the M-ELNP-21. Word is these former Aussie ACes are bound for Progress Rail in Marshalltown, IA." (Used with permisson.)




Projects B4/B5 were signalling and track work for a 7-mile stretch of the IHB. It demonstrates that Chicago still has 19-th century rail technology in the 21-st century because it upgraded over a dozen hand-thrown switches to power switches. It also added and improved crossovers. Instead of taking 2 hours to cover the 7 miles (3.5 mph, walking speed), it takes "just" 20 minutes. That is still just 21 mph. The report is excited that the track speed is now all the way up to 30 mph. This makes me appreciate how fast freight trains run on the BNSF/CB&Q racetrack near my house. What struck me was the cost -- $38 million for "just" track and signalling work. Track and signalling work is more complicated than I would have guessed.

(For my reference: if I can force myself to describe how B4/B5 wasted a lot of our federal tax money, I'll need this posting that confirms the connection on the north side is seldom used.)

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