Mountain West Rail
SP&S 700 Westbound Trip Report
Billings to Bozeman, Montana - October 18, 2002
by Paul Birkholz as posted to the MRL list

Thought I'd pass along what I saw while following the SP&S 700 from Billings to Bozeman on Friday.  I didn't decide to follow along until late Thursday evening and thus had to leave early Friday morning to make Billings on time for departure.  When I arrived south of the Billings Depot about 8:10 they were just loading passengers which provided plenty of time to compose a few nice shots of the SP&S 700 and the depot.  It is a shame that some of the NP logos were stolen and it wasn't an NP engine with the NP Monad overhead on the depot.  But, it wasn't worth dwelling on either with such great weather and a fun subject to photograph.

They left Billings near the advertised of 8:30 and put on a good show with the multiple street crossings.  There was a large crowd to see them off and then the shoulders and medians were full of vehicles in west Billings as they left town.  This trend continued all the way to Laurel.  I tried an overhead shot from the Shiloh Road exit and then went on to Laurel to set up on the west end by the grain elevators.  It was a longer wait than I expected, but well worth it as I was also going for quality, not quantity on this trip.

The 700 departed Laurel about 9:50 and really picked up the pace.  The first stop was Columbus for a "jiffy lube" and a photo run-by.  The town suffered from a vehicle infestation in just a few minutes and forced a sheriff's deputy to start directing traffic on the west end of town.  I hung out west of town to keep out of the way and out of the crowd. After a nice head-on shot for the photo run-by I headed west with a few others to find the next one.

I settled on an overhead shot from the interstate west of Craver after checking out the people already assembling at the bridge over the Yellowstone River.  Everyone had plenty of time to set up because the passenger train had to hold for a few minutes at Craver for a eastbound train - the V-PTLKCK8-16.  The wait allowed plenty of time for the Montana Highway Patrol to pass by many times and get all the vehicles to safe parking places.  One Helena railfan in a new Subaru had to move his off the bridge even. ;-]

It was all green signals from Craver to Livingston where they made an extended service stop of nearly 2 hours to fully lube the engine and also do two photo run-bys on the main line in front of the depot.  I took the opportunity to grab a little lunch and catch two other trains on the east side of Bozeman Pass.  The first was an eastbound Livingston Local with MRL 403 and 404 in their non-MRL blue paint.  Waiting in the yard for the local was a westbound V-KCMTAC8-16.  Once the local did a bit of switching, the V-train was able to depart west.  The local then coordinated a move with the dispatcher and 700 so they could cross over from the yard to the main and head down the east leg of the wye to serve RY lumber.

About this time someone on the ground near the SP&S 700 found a broken angle bar on the track right under the engine.  It took quite a bit of radio chatter, but some folks from the Livingston section were found and they headed for town to take care of the problem.  It was determined that the train would be able to make both run-bys and depart before the repair was made.

About 3:45 pm the SP&S 700 departed Livingston for the run over Bozeman Pass.  I had a couple locations picked out on the Pass and was able to take a few photographs at each despite the traffic.  It is amazing what a mass of cars on two lanes can slow down to.  Of course, there were the pacers, which was just fine, but then sometimes there would be pacers in the passing lanes which cause some pretty good traffic jams.  The confusion of the people obviously not following the train was rather humorous.

After a couple more shots of the train descending the west side of the pass I headed back east to Livingston to catch the LM instead of follow the crowd into Bozeman with the 700.  The LM never made it over Bozeman Pass before sun down, but I still got a few shots of them pulling out of Livingston in preparation for the returning helpers from the east.  An eastbound empty Boardman train (E-SPBEBM0-33) passed through a few minutes later in the last bits of sunshine.

About 6 pm I headed back west over Bozeman Pass and saw two more trains, an H-PASKCK1-17 with MRL helpers at Muir and a X-TACJAM9-16 at West End.  I was hoping to get a few evening photos of the 700 and got lucky enough to have a nearly full moon rising over the hillside as I arrived.  I made good use of it as a prop.  I should have stayed in Bozeman on Friday night and hung out at Ale Works, but I instead headed back east.

A few other things I noted on the trip....  Just about every MRL truck out there was giving the train a good inspection (as they do with all trains), but many of them had their camera out for a quick photo or two of its passage. :-)  The LM dropped off BNSF 4468 and 4557 at Talgo-LRC.  Both engines were idling away in their faded orange paint and are most likely there to be repainted.

And finally, the crowds of people out to see this train were amazing.  It wasn't just railfans and their families, but all kinds of people of all ages.  I'll post a few images once the slides are developed and I find some time to scan them.

If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed it.


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