Replacing the Diamonds

One of the great pleasures of subscribing to Trains magazine is access to the webcam they maintain at the Railroad Park at Rochelle, Illinois, which overlooks the diamonds where the Union Pacific (formerly tracks belonging to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad) and BNSF (formerly Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy) railroads cross. The site is HERE, but you need to subscribe to view the cam.

Webcam page_sm

There are about a hundred trains a day that cross these four diamonds (dual tracks crossing make four diamonds), so for railfans it is a nice substitute when you can’t get off your duff and go out to your local freight yard or mainline and watch trains. I often log on with my 13” MacBook Pro, parked off to the right, so it doesn’t obscure work on my 27” iMac desktop machine.

This past Memorial Day (May 29th) marked a signal event at Rochelle: the diamonds were replaced! Actually, this happens maybe once or twice a decade; this time, it was not quite seven years (the last replacement was in November, 2010). I was not surprised, as UP maintenance-of-way (MoW) crews had been out making repairs to the diamonds practically every day that I looked in for the past couple of years. Back in February, 2015 Trains had done a cover story on the difficulties of maintaining diamonds on heavily-traveled routes, “Diamonds Are Not a Railroad’s Best Friend” (subscriber-only, issue available HERE), with Peter A. Hansen writing,

The running rails . . . have gaps; that’s how the [wheel] flanges get through the rails of the intersecting track. The wheel treads bounce over the gaps, landing with a thud on the far side, and subjecting the car and the crossing to high static and dynamic loads. . . up to three times higher than on conventional open track. . .

The impact on locomotives and cars weighing hundreds of tons is dramatic and two-way:

Brake shoes, wheel treads, flanges, and axles wear much faster from diamond-crossing impacts than they do from open track. The track work suffers, too. Repeated vertical pumping from wheels passing over the diamond can cause ballast to disintegrate and ties to degrade, which in turn promotes sagging of the entire track structure. And, since the components of the diamond—running rails, guard rails, frogs, and flangeways‚are bolted together, fatigue and loose nuts are a never-ending battle.

At Rochelle, commenters on the long-running Trains Forum topic, “Semi-official Rochelle webcam discussion thread,” often noted how the high double-stacked containers on eastbound UP intermodal freights seemed to be “rockin’ and rollin’” as they crossed the diamonds at speed. It was surprisingly noticeable, even with the low resolution of the webcam, and a favorite topic, rivaling the resident spider that frequently draws web strands across the camera.

There were rumors of major work coming. Large piles of ballast were deposited alongside the UP tracks. Two weeks before the event, a Forum member called ‘rdamon’ reported,

The new diamond is already here .. behind the “Del Monte Wall” .. Once we see the orange locate paint and flags show up we know things are getting ready.

Unbeknownst to me, a photographer named Jim Taylor, who posts railroad pictures on Flickr, had taken a photo of the new diamonds back on April 1st; they had been deposited behind the remaining wall of the Del Monte warehouse across from the diamonds that had been mostly demolished a year ago, so the new diamonds were invisible to the webcam. Here is an excellent photo taken by Mr Taylor:

New Diamonds

New Diamonds for Rochelle (Copyright © Jim Taylor 2017, used by permission)

You can see that the diamonds are pre-assembled as a single unit. Since every such rail crossing is unique, each diamond, or diamond set, has to be built to exact specifications ahead of time. In this case, before installation, sections of track on each side of the diamonds (all eight tracks, I think) called ‘panels’ were replaced before the big diamond-installation day. Then early in the afternoon on Memorial Day, presumably chosen when rail traffic would be at its lightest, I looked in to see this:

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