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September 1997 - Page 57


B N SBranch Fs o lumbus

evidence came when MCP built a Y.-mile spur from its plant to the abandoned BN right-of-way immediately south of the facility, along the north bank of the Platte River. On S eptember 2 3 , 1 99 4 , BN announced i t would, indeed, rebuild the line across the Platte. I n addition to construction, there were several regulatory hurdles for BN to overcome. The railroad needed approval from the S urface Transportation Board to build the 4 .6-mile extension to i t s branch. Furthermore, Army Corps of Engineers approval was required for the new bridge across the Platte River. Surface Transportation Board approval was grant ed on January 1 0 , 1 9 9 5 , and BN wanted to start work on the bridge before the spring thaw, while the waters of t h e P l a t t e were low. Local landowners , however, recalled the ice jams and subsequent flood ing caused by B N 's previous bridge. Consequently, lawsuits and eminent domain proceedings delayed the project for an additional six months. In spite of the legal obstructions, B N began up grading the track between Bellwood and David C i ty in February 1 99 5 . Construction on the Platte River bri dge fi n a l ly got u n d e r way in S ep t e m b e r. By November, BN was working north of the Platte on the l i ne b e t w e e n t h e M C P s p ur a n d t h e P l a t t e bridge, a section where yet another bridge had t o be bui l t to span an irrigation canal . Most actual track work was done in spring and summer 1 99 6 . (The new section of the branch consists of used continu ous welded rail , giving the track the appearance of a major main l i n e . ) The completed C o l umbus Branch officially opened o n August 1 5 , 1 99 6 , with the first BNSF train to MCP's Columbus plant oper ating the very next day.

O perations
B urlington Northern & S anta Fe's C o l u m b u s local ( LNEB84 1 1 under the new Transportation Support System [TS S ] ) operates as a turn, from Lincoln to Columbus and back. This train is a Sundays-through Fridays daylight job. As with most loca l s , t h i s job draws crews with the highest seniority on the district. The local crew goes on duty at 8 a . m . , when it move its power, generally two or three Geeps , from the Lincoln freight pit to its train-which has already been made up by a yard switcher. The local usually makes it out of Lincoln Yard be fore 9 a . m . , operating on t h e congested Ravenna Line between Lincoln and Seward. Once it arrives at Seward, about 45 minutes later, the train leaves the

m ain l i ne and heads up t h e branch, which meanders its way alongside the North Fork of the Big Blue River. Sometimes there will be work to do at towns along the way ( i f so, the crew wi l l almost always take care of it on the way to Columbus ) . A l t hough B N S F 's T S S system s h ows a n 1 1 :4 5 a . m . arrival a t M C P, 1 p . m . i s usually correct. Minnesota Corn Processors has its own rail yard south of the plant, a s well as its own switcher, which has the out bound train already made up and a n air brake test completed. All the BNSF local has to do i s drop off the inbound train and pick up the outbound. The local usually calls the M C P plant on Chann e l 3 9 ( 1 60 . 6 9 5 MHz) a s i t i s departing B e l lwoo d . When i t reaches the MCP spur, i t cuts off i t s power, and heads towards t h e yard track where its outbound train i s waiting. T h e MCP switcher wil l c o m e o u t o n t o t h e s p u r, g r a b t h e in bound trai n , and d r a g i t i n t o MCP's yard . Once t h e B N SF's local pumps u p its air, i t d e p a rt s . T h i s e n t i re p r o c e s s usually takes about 1 5 minutes. Al though the local i s sched uled to depart MCP at 3 p .m . , it leaves by 1 : 3 0 p.m. usually. The new line north of Bel lwood has a 40 mph speed , with 25 mph pre vailing on the remainder. Gener ally, the Columbus Local will pass Bellwood at 1 :45 p . m . , David City at 2 : 3 0 , and arrive in Seward at 4 p . m . Depending on t h e day's traffi c load on the Ravenna Line, the l ocal will be back in Lincoln 4 5 minutes later. All of these t i m e s , of course, can vary considerably. The train can have anywhere from a couple of cars to more than 80, and Sunday's train is usually the smallest. The local is an unmistak able, since i t usually consists of Mep tank cars and, perhaps, a few covered hoppers. M innesota Corn Processors seems pleased w i t h BNSF's service, a n d t h e company's continuing pros perity provides a stable traffic base; consequently, the future of the Columbus Branch looks brigh t . RailNews
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