Powder River Basin Coal Trains 2016

July 27, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Back in Wyoming's Powder River Basin in June. Felt good to be in Douglas again, and rolling along Route 59. I really didn't know what to expect, with the drop off in coal usage, but the trains were running pretty much non-stop.

Powder River Basin SunsetPowder River Basin Sunset

Sunset along Route 59 offers especially nice photo opportunities.

Route 59 is the spine of coal country, paralleling the mostly 4-track Orin Line, the BNSF-Union Pacific joint line, for two hours from Douglas to Gillette. The joint line is a rare four-track freight line. In this case, the freight trains are all coal trains, running 24 hours a day. Its spurs feed into the coal mines along the route. The tracks run north from the UP's Shawnee Junction, which is south of Douglas, to BNSF's Donkey Creek Junction east of Gillette.

For about 45 minutes starting 20 minutes north of Douglas, the tracks run directly alongside Route 59, making for well-lit morning photos.

Along Route 59Along Route 59

Driving north from Douglas, you first encounter the tracks on an overpass

Route 59 OverpassRoute 59 Overpass

They then run north on the west side of the road through the town of Bill (population about 1, and consisting of a ramshackle general store with a surprisingly large backroom bar, a post office which may or may not be operational, and Penny's Diner and the Oak Tree Inn.

Bill exists only because Union Pacific has a yard there, where most trains stop for crew changes. The diner and motel are primarily for the train crews, though they are open to the public. Be aware that there are no gas stations at all on Route 59, and other than in Bill, no services except for a bathroom-only rest area.

North of Bill, the tracks again cross Route 59, this time on an underpass,

Route 59 UnderpassRoute 59 Underpass

and continue north a mile or more east of the road, and out of sight.

When I was last in the Powder River Basin in 2014 I spent most of my time on Logan Hill (a couple of miles east of Route 59 on Steckley Road, a dirt road into the Thunder Basin National Grasslands) and at Donkey Creek Yard. See my June 2014 blog: click here 

This time I focused on Walker Creek Road, just south of the overpass. Like Logan Hill, the views are good in both directions, both morning and evening. But here the trains are on level ground and moving faster.

Walker Creek RdWalker Creek Rd

My second focus was Antelope Coal Mine Road, about five minutes north of Steckley Road. Along Antelope Coal Mine Road near Arch Coal's Antelope Coal Mine is Converse Junction

Converse Junction -  Antelope Coal Mine RoadConverse Junction - Antelope Coal Mine Road

and further down the road is Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle Mine.

North Antelope Rochelle MineNorth Antelope Rochelle Mine

To see my Powder River Basin Coal Train photo gallery click here

 

   


 


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