Union Pacific brought out a rarely used rotary snowplow to clear away heavy snow which halted train traffic across California's Donner Pass for five days in March.
The route reopened Tuesday, March 29, with limited train operation. The snow clearing process is scheduled to continue through the end of the week, said Union Pacific Railroad.
As of Thursday, there were approximately 564 inches of snow at the summit of the pass which crosses the Sierra Nevada mountains west of Truckee, Calif. That is about 150 inches above the average, UP said. With 13 feet of snow falling over a period of seven days, Union Pacific was forced to shut the line down March 24.
UP diverted freight trains through the Feather River Canyon and the Central Valley of California. Amtrak, whose passenger trains typically use this Union Pacific-owned route, also diverted trains or bussed passengers around the snow.
UP brought in some historic heavy equipment to clear the tracks, on which it has been running double-stack intermodal trains since November 2009.
Although the pass at more than 7,000 feet high is known for its heavy snow accumulations and fierce storms, UP spent nearly $30 million and 12 months rebuilding tunnels to open it up to double-stack trains in late November 2009.
A team of 100 people across a 50 mile stretch of key railroad infrastructure is removing snow with a collection of bulldozers and other equipment, including a rotary plow which hadn't seen service since January 1997.
Union Pacific last used its 900082 (the largest rotary in the country) to help dig out BNSF that winter, when heavy snow crippled BNSF operations in the Donner Pass. The two railroads spent about two weeks clearing the snowed-in lines.
Since rotaries cost more to operate than fixed-blade plows, they are now generally considered to be a "weapon of last resort" for the railroads that own them; they are only used when snow is too deep or heavy for fixed-blade plows.
-- Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at email@example.com.