Oh how the mighty have fallen - or so it seems. Once holding court on the high rail of the land, the ubiquitous EMD SD40-2 lingers into well into its fourth decade of service. What was once the prime mover of main line freight for many Class 1 railroads has now been sidelined to a more tedious task of local, transfer and gulp - switching duties. Stripped of their once proud road numbers, many have been had their number boards changed several times to reflect their less than stately rank among active units. In looking back, the banner year for the last stand for the Dash 2's was around 2006, where one could catch solid sets of them still leading priority trains out West. It was about then, I saw one of my last high priority Seattle to Chicago trailer trains, headed over Stevens Pass with 5 SD40-2s for power. How quickly we forget the melodic chant that the 16 cylinder 645 EMD prime movers made while under load climbing the grade. Today all we can hope for is to catch an errant "Dash 2" in transit from one terminal to another, usually stuffed behind a few GEs, no longer doing their part but just being towed along for the ride.
UP 1662 leads a string of empty A-frames into Winlock, WA on the LIC-55 local
For the longest time Union Pacific Geeps held the assignment for the Longview, Washington based LIC-55 local switcher. The five day a week local works north from Longview, Washington, switching lumber reloads at Winlock and Napavine, Washington as well as Cardinal Glass company at Evaline, just north of Winlock before returning back south to Longview. This afternoon/evening job usually required the need for 3 to 4 GP40-2's to power the train up the near 1% grade at Napavine Hill, as well as the steep spur track to the mill reload at Winlock. That all changed about 3 years ago when the geeps were sent elsewhere in the system and the assignment was turned over to 2 SD40-2 rebuilds. Now listed as SD40Ns, these still have the same classic look, sound and feel of the good old Dash-2.
UP's LIC 55 pulls loads from the cedar reload at Winlock, WA before setting over empties.
Close to their 40th year in service, UP 1662 started out on the UP as UP 3484 after being built in May 1978, and UP 1611 was delivered in May 1977 as UP 8069. Although they no longer pull their trains across the great distances of the UP system, they still have a chance to show their power on the high iron, for just a few miles. Just about any weekday evening the LIC-55 is busy switching out as many as 15 loaded lumber cars and setting over as many empty cars at the reload at Napavine, much to the growling drivers stopped at the crossing at Main Street in town waiting for the switching to complete. Timing can be key, as the 55 works on the busy Seattle Subdivision where BNSF and UP train counts near 50 per day with nearly a dozen Amtrak's. Evenings can be a congested time on the Seattle Sub, especially around Napavine about the time the 55 is working there, tying up one of the main tracks. Sitting trackside, it can result in an entertaining evening of watching the fleet of trains roll by.
A UP crewman watches the crossing at Winlock and the 55 eases down the steep grade for a pick up of loaded lumber cars.
LIC-55 pauses at Napavine after an hour of switching at the Hampton Lumber reload. The power will now run-around the train for the return trip to Longview.
Across the system each year there are less and less of these power houses. Many of them are sold off, traded in or scrapped. Its still a surprise to find some of these engines that are still able to get loose from yard duties and stretch their legs out on the main line. Keep an eye out trackside, you just might still be able to catch one!
You can find many more examples of SD40-2s being used in my First Decade of the 2000's album on Flickr.