Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Friday, May 27, 2011

Google Maps Catches A Train

The Union Railroad Roundhouse

Roundhouse Coordinates:   N40º 26.068’ W79º 48.127'

Note! Click on images to view in full size.

I was fooling around with Google Maps in satellite view, and decided to follow the Union's tracks to the tunnel (possibly another adventure) that ends up in North Bessemer where the Union ends and the B&LE begins,  I followed the tracks out to about Frey Road in Penn Hills and noticed that the satellite caught a train also heading to North Bessemer.  So I followed the train along until I found the engines.  Google maps updates their satellite views from time to time so for posterity I did screen dumps of the engines, the crossing at Thompson Run Road, and the caboose.

You can view these images on Google Maps.  Copy the coordinates given for each screen dump.  Access Google on your computer.  Click the Maps tab, and paste the coordinates into the search bar.  Zoom in on the results and click the hide panel button to get rid of the query and info panel on the left side of the map. Sometimes when you zoom in, the map shifts, so zoom in using steps and re-center the green arrow to keep it in view.  If you get lost zoom back out and look for the green arrow.

Engine Coordinates:   N40º 27.844’  W79º 47.629’

The Engines

 The engines are located just south of the cement elevators in the old Universal Atlas plant.  Click on the image  to view it full size and you should see three blue engines and one red and yellow which could be #33 with the new paint scheme.  All the hopper cars are empty.

Crossing Coordinates:   N40º 27.140’  W79º 47.773’

The RR Crossing

This railroad crossing is located on the northern section of Thompson Run Road in the Municipality of Penn Hills.  It is about one third the distance between Old William Penn Highway and Main Street in Universal.

Caboose Coordinates:   N40º 26.980’  W79º 47.722’

The Caboose

The Union Railroad still uses cabooses.  I adjusted the longitude slightly east so that the green arrow would not obliterate the caboose.

The Train Highlighted

I wanted to include an overall shot of the train to show its length.  However when I zoomed out far enough to encompass the entire length, the train got lost in the resolution.  I highlighted the train in magenta.  The rather grungy looking triangle of land bordered by Lott Road on the northeast, Thompson Run on the west and the forested section on the southeast looks grungy because it is grungy.  It is a huge slag dump brought out of the Monongahela valley mills by none other than the Union Railroad.  The site was at one time under consideration as a Super Fund site by the EPA.  I am not sure what the status is now.  The white strip immediately to the left of the train is the remnants of the old Universal Atlas Cement plant, which was owned by United States Steel.  I could be wrong but I think that many of these operations were shutdown when US Steel bought Marathon Oil and became USX and got hoity-toity.  Then USX cast off US Steel and renamed itself Marathon.  Shenanigans by the big hitters at the cost of many jobs no doubt. 

How long is the train?  I set the coordinates for the engine and caboose in the mapping software Garmin provides with one of my GPS units. I then used the distance tool (yellow highlight) to calculate the length of the train, then did a screen dump of the map.   If you look at the bottom of the screen, you will see the distance is one mile.  The area and bearing are meaningless in this case.

I also did an overview to show the train in relation to the roundhouse. 

Last night I had to drive over to Monroeville and I took this route quite intentionally.  I was treated with a train at the crossing, a rare event any more.  Alas I missed the engines.  It moved very slow, maybe 10 mph and I got to look at a lot of B&LE hopper cars.  Yes there was a caboose with a guy in it.  This Google Street View is what I saw except there was no train when Google come by, and there were no red locater balloons!  Imagine 50 years from now, Google will project holograms of the balloons at the actual location.  The chip that Intel implanted in your head at birth, will make the balloon visible only to you and what ever friends you Tweet the balloons to, all done with thought of course, unless your subscription to Microsoft's Internal Bio-chip Operating System has expired. 

And while I am fooling around with Google Maps, here is the Street View of the repair shop.  Google managed to catch an engine sitting at the doorway.

Image Credits:

All satellite and street view imagery:   Google Maps

Maps:   MapSource software, Version 6.13.7, Garmin Ltd.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Does The Roundhouse Have Engines?

VW Busman gave me my first mission in weird things that retired guys do.  Find out if the Union Railroad Roundhouse at Hall Station in Monroeville, Pennsylvania has any engines in it. Well the place used to be 24 / 7 when I was kid.  Now it is  8 / 5, so I had to go during the week when the doors are open.

View Of The Round House Location  N40º 26.068’ W79º 48.127’

Note! Click on photos to view full size. 

So I stopped by today.  Cool open doors!

So here is what I am faced with.

Yeah!  I should be able to get pictures of what is in those doors.  Did I mention that the trees on top of this cliff are hawthorns?  There seems to be four things that grow up here besides hawthorns, multiflora rose, black berries, poison ivy and some kind of viney thing that wraps around your feet and wants to pitch you over the cliff, which is about 100 feet down right on to the tracks.  I need not worry though, if I did fall, the railroad bulls would never be able to identify me, all my skin would flayed off on the 17 bazillion thorns on the way down.

Yeah, piece of cake.

I don't see any engines in this one.

Cool, I think I see one!  Oh its a Ford truck.

And what is in this door?  Wow, a cooler sitting on a box and a guy pushing a hand truck!

Oh oh!  What is this in door # 7?

Oh oh indeed, here come the bulls!  He drives by, takes a gander at me, slows down and gets the license number off my car, and then drives on.  Hmmmm. Oh, wait he is turning around and coming back this way.  May as well take another picture.  So I assume the pose with the camera and pretend that he isn't there.  "Good morning sir.  Are you OK?"  Well other than being afflicted with a weird retirement disease that makes you stand in a thicket of thorns trying to get pictures of  a roundhouse, yes I am fine.  So we chat a bit.  Yes they still use the roundhouse.  "You are fine up here, just be careful," he says as one of the viney things pulls me tighter into a hawthorn branch--which then takes up the fine art of stabbing me in the ass while the officer chats on.  "Oh and by the way, stay out of the property and tracks below.  Good day sir!"   Good day indeed as rivulets of blood dribble down my ass cheek.

Let's try this from another vantage point.

Sure enough good old Engine #13.

According to Wikipedia Engine 13 is a EMD MP15DC which is a 1500 horsepower switcher made by General Motors Electro-Motive Division.   That is not a lot of horsepower for the tonnage that the Union pulls.  So they gang 4 or 5 of them together and run them full throttle apparently at some reduced gearing. I am not sure how diesel electrics work, but the Union's engines when loaded sound like they are running full tilt and the train creeps along at maybe 15 MPH.  Mental note, the bull just passed by again.

This guy looks like it is being extensively overhauled or cannibalized for parts.  Good God, look at the size of that flange.  I believe that is a small step ladder in the front.  I wonder with the round hole in the front housing, do they have a huge fan blade behind the radiator like a car does?

OK the bull just rode by again, it is time to leave. I hope nobody shoots the place up with pellet guns tonight, he has my license number.

Oh the roof ventilators that are on the square boxy building on the south end of the facility.

Maybe they don't look so Victorian after all.

They look like they may be flues for something hot like a furnace or oven.  There are a number of them.

It is time to get going.  One last parting shot of the elevated tank.

For some really great shots of the Union Railroad in action and the repair facility check out this site: Locomotive Shops

I really love these two photos: photo 182463 photo 183688

But I am absolutely insane about this one: photo 181867

What a totally cool photo. This guy has to be an insider.  I did not know that the Bessemer & Lake Erie were maintaining their engines at Monroeville.  They have a big roundhouse in Greenville, PA.  At one time B&LE and the Union were sisters under the ownership of United States Steel, but in 2004 B&LE was sold to the Canadian National Railroad.  So I don't know if the B&LE is still using the Union's shops or not.  The Union is still owned by US Steel, it said so on the side of the bull's patrol SUV.

Well I succeeded in my mission and I didn't get arrested, although they got my license number.  I'll have to let this cool off for a bit and try again in the fall.

Related Links:

Union Railroad Company

Wikipedia, Union Railroad

Carsten Lundsten, Union Railroad

Wikipedia, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad

Carsten Lundsten, B&LE Railroad   This site is phenomenal.  A guy from Denmark has the one of the best sites. A true RR nut, my kind of guy.

CN News, CN to Acquire Great Lakes Transportation LLC

This is one is for VW Busman's personal edification:

CN Police Mark Rail Safety Week 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who Has Time For Chores, There Are Railroads to Look At

 Note!  Click on photos to view full size.

View Of The Round House Location  N40º 26.068’ W79º 48.127’
April 30

On Saturday, in keeping with the fine tradition of screwing off instead of chores (actually only delaying the chores), I returned to the Union Railroad to have another look at the roundhouse turntable.
May 21

It is in a different position!  They must still use it.  Look at the photos.  For comparison I included a photo from April 30.  In the April 30 photo, the left end of the turntable is aligned with the first set of tracks and the lateral centerline of the black superstructure is somewhat aligned with door 9.  In May 21 photo the left end of the turntable is aligned with the third set of tracks and the centerline of the superstructure is aligned with the left edge of door 11 (Receiving).

Zoom of the turntable's whee
When I was taking the photos, I thought the wheel was toothed which seemed odd because the rail is smooth.  Looking at the photo at home on the computer, the wheel is smooth but has the shadow from the grating above it. 

I took a couple of photos of the woods again from roughly the same spot as before.  Fully leafed and quite beautiful.

Here is a honeysuckle, but for the life of me I can’t key out which species.  It is blooming here in Pittsburgh on May 21.  It was blooming in the middle of March when I was at Augusta, Georgia.

The doors were open on the boxy end of the repair facility so I tried to get some zoom shots in the doors.   

Alas I see no locomotives.

A zoom of the roundhouse turntable from track level.


I stopped under the bridge again to get some shots of the truss in the sunlight. 


I was treated to three Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) performing a behavior called puddling.  

The young males congregate on puddles or mud to attain salts and amino acids.  I have seen this before, but never realized that it was a behavior.



As I tried to get closer two of the swallowtails flew off, but I managed to get a nice zoom of this guy.  Unfortunately he never opened his wings. 

Here is a shot of the overpass for the railroad over Thompson Run creek.  As kids we used to walk though here to get from our side of the railroad to  this side.  Note the blue cast to the water.  It is partially treated sewage.  It does not stink but it looks like hell.  There seems to be endless sources of this blue water in Allegheny County.

The view up Thompson Run Road toward the Hall Station Bridge. I looked at the leaning pole on the hill and realized I would be gone in a puff of smoke if it decided to fall.

Here is a shot of some of those lousy invasive dame’s rockets with the Hall Station Bridge in the background.

The view down Thompson Run Road.  Near the utility pole, there is a roadside memorial to a young woman whose vehicle slid off the icy road and plunged into the creek last year.  The guard rail appears to have been installed after the fact.

 Moving along I stopped to get a photo of this cliff.  It has the usual rotten Allegheny Count hardened sediment rock and is constantly falling down.  A few years ago there was a tiff between the Borough of Monroeville and the Union Railroad about this cliff, but I never heard what the result was.  The other notable is this is where my father discovered purple flowering raspberry growing with my brother-in-law.  It was one of his major finds.  I have seen it in many places while Geocaching, but in my father’s mind this was a real find.  I will have to return here later in the summer and see if it is still here.

Here is a shot of the overpass for the railroad over Thompson Run Road.   

Click to view full size.
This is the same over pass, although the other side that I shot from high on the hill in Sears parking lot on Easter Sunday.  You can see the cliff behind the overpass in that photo.  Wow that was way back when I was still employed.  I prefer my unemployed status.

 Some more creeping buttercups.   

This shot of the leaves show the blotches which only the creeping species has. 

Toxicodendron radicans

Well one last plant, the national flower of Allegheny County, at least one would think so with the extensive growth found in the county.  Well the fun was over and it was time to go cut grass.