The "Train of Pain" on a downhill run near Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah.
Thirty-six carloads of uranium tailings head for disposal near Brendel, Utah.
A lonely grade crossing on the Cane Creek Subdivision, near Potash, Utah.
Two old Two derelict, radioactive locomotives stored at Potash, Utah.
Rust and polish Rust and polish on rails of the Cane Creek Subdivision, near Potash, Utah.
Hand-laid Hand-laid rails on the Cane Creek Subdivision, near Potash, Utah.
“ Follow the 'Train of Pain' from the Moab Pile to Crescent Junction, Utah (Historical Brendel, UT"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 7:27 PM Posted by Jim McGillis

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Union Pacific Railraod locomotives pull the uranium mill tailings train to the disposal site - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

The "Train of Pain" Travels Thirty Miles from Moab to Crescent Junction  

In April 2009, I was in Moab, Utah when the first mill tailings train departed the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) site. The train departed from a track running high along a ridge that overlooks the Moab Pile. Five days each week, a trainload of radioactive soil headed north on the Cane Creek Subdivision, better known as the Potash Branch. The destination is a disposal site, northeast of Brendel and Crescent Junction, Utah. In those early days of rail transport, there was no published train schedule. Before I could locate a schedule, it was time for me to leave Moab.
A plume of diesel exhaust follows the mill tailings train as it gains speed in the desert- Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
In October 2010, I returned to Moab, traveling south along U.S. Highway 191. As the road descended towards the entrance at Arches National Park, I looked ahead towards the ridge. There I saw two Union Pacific Railroad locomotives pulling a trainload of containers to the north. After noting the time, I made plans to return and photograph the train as it traveled toward the UMTRA disposal site in the desert.
 
Two afternoons later, I waited near Milepost 134 on Highway 191. From there, I could see the lead engine, a 2004 GE C44AC-CTE approaching from over a mile away. As it pulled the hill, the entire train disappeared behind the Redrock. Reappearing a minute later, the lead engine entered an “S” curve. If this were the old days, I would say that the engines appeared to be “building steam”. As I stood and shot photos, the engines rapidly approached.
 

Watch the YouTube Video - The Train of Pain, travels from Moab to Crescent Junction, Utah

 
 
While standing near the edge of the railroad right of way, an unexpected plume of sound, heat and pollution blew me back from my position. After receiving that 8800-horsepower blast of old energy from the twin GE Evolution Series diesel locomotives, almost a minute passed before I could catch my breath. Still, as the parade of nuclear waste bins passed my position, I reflexively snapped more photos.
Lead locomotive crosses the arroyo near Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Each of the thirty-six flatcars carried four steel-lidded bins. The two bins at the center of each car held up to thirty-five cubic yards and two outboard bins were larger still. Bringing up the rear were two ancient, exhaust encrusted locomotives. After fifteen years of service in the Rockies, the old diesel-electric engines could still share the load with the newer, equally powerful engines at head-end. Because of the extreme weight of the mill tailing trains, pushers are needed to help climb the initial grade. If an average container held forty cubic yards, the entire train carried almost 5000 cubic yards of contaminated soil. When dumped at the disposal site, a single trainload of contaminated soil would fill an American football field to a depth of about one meter.
Another 5000 cubic yards of nuclear contaminated material heads for the UMTRA Disposal Cell. 
To put the cleanup process into perspective, consider that it will take ten to fifteen years to complete the removal project. That timeline assumes two trainloads per day, at least five days per week. What might happen if a Colorado River flood were to hit the UMTRA site before the Moab Pile is gone? Only time will tell.
 
After the train passed my position, I jumped into my truck and headed towards the grade crossing at Utah Highway 313. When I reached that spot, the lead locomotives had already passed. I fastened my seatbelt and took off for a spot where the tracks come close to the highway. While taking pictures from a small hill adjacent to the tracks, the big diesel engines soon provided me with another blast of hot diesel exhaust.
The "Train of Pain" approaches the Rock Corral Road grade crossing - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Traveling farther north, I stopped at an arroyo and shot pictures of the engines as they passed over a low bridge. My final stop was north of Canyonlands Field, where the unmarked Rock Corral Road crosses the tracks. This time I arrived well before of the train. After passing under the highway near Canyonlands Field, the train made wide left turn across my field of view. As it did, I could see each car in the thirty-nine car train. As the big diesel electric engines approached, I moved back form the tracks the tracks and continued shooting pictures. The train passed my position; it was heading down a slight grade, gaining speed on the straightaway.
Radioactive mill tailings pass by Rock Corral Road, in Grand County, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
Thinking that I was smarter than the train this time, I had positioned myself upwind from the exhaust blast. Sounding like an earthquake on wheels, I watched as the mighty engines roared toward me. What I had forgotten was the several horn-blasts required at a rail crossing, even in the middle of nowhere. This time, rather than an exhaust blast I endured several deafening blasts from the horns.
 
Covered with diesel soot and near deaf from the horn blasts, I stopped chasing the "Train of Pain". Instead, I stood between the tracks and watched as the two 1996 GE C44AC pusher engines disappeared down the tracks.
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