"Dead Blocks" - How Dead Can a Mainline Get?

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Okay, so today was a perfect spring day with highs in the upper 70s and calm winds, so I thought "Hey! Perfect day to get trackside and do some railfanning!" I live along the BNSF Railway Red Rock Subdivision in Oklahoma, which is BNSF's lifeline between Chicago and Texas, and I went out with my camera and tripod hoping to maybe get at least a few decent catches. I arrived at the track about 1:45 PM. I kid you not, I sat there by the track for at least a good solid five hours, and not one single train came by - not one! It was just after 6 PM when I left. I live fairly close to the track, and as of this writing, at 8:20 PM local time, there still has not been one single train, going on seven hours now. Now I've seen some pretty dead days on this line before, and I can honestly say, in my several years of railfanning this line, I have never seen the line sit dormant with no trains for more than about three or four hours maximum. Now obviously, I would expect on certain major holidays of the year, like Christmas or Labor Day, that the line would be pretty dead. But this is just a normal weekday! Granted, it's a Monday, but still, for a major artery...

So this experience has inspired me to ask you, my fellow railfans: What's the deadest you've ever seen a mainline? (Excluding major holidays) What's the longest you've ever waited for a train to show up in your railfan outings?


A few years back when there was extensive flooding in Iowa I didn't get called to go to work for about 10 days. The last train I worked was stopped about 60 miles from home because the track was under water. They cabbed us home and I tied up 56 times out on the board. After about 8 days I had moved up to around 20 times out when I won a bid to a different pool. Those runs also had some flooding issues, but they cleared up first and some trains in that area started to move again. Still because the other end was closed it took a while for things to return to normal.



Sounds like UP's Brooklyn Subdivision anytime I'm near it. They say it's a mainline, but I'll be lucky if I catch a GP38-2 with a local.
It sure seems to me like that the railroad would lose money to go 8-10 hours without running a train on one of its main arteries (a dormant track is a track that's losing money), but then again, I guess as today proves and the experience of others on here goes to show, there are those days when it really can be that slow, especially in this economy. Maybe they were doing some extensive track work somewhere else along the line. I've seen them run trains even on maintenance days, so perhaps they were replacing a section of rail or replacing ties somewhere, or maybe it just really was a slow day for shipments on the Fort Worth line. You just gotta love it when the trains won't show up when you spend the entire afternoon watching for them, and then once you leave, it's like a nonstop parade of trains after that...Oh the joys of railfanning: somedays you have so many trains it makes your head spin, and other days you just get totally skunked.:rolleyes:


New Member
That is what the Ann Arbor Railroad (I don't know who owns it now, but I still call it the AAR.) does. They send 0 trains through during the day, but send 3 or 4 trains through around 2 AM!

This is in Ann Arbor, at my grandparents' house.

My grandpa thinks that it is because some of their trains carry nuclear waste from a power plant in Toledo.

Do trains even haul nuclear waste?

Mr. Pick

New Member
It's not always maintenance or nature that shuts down a line for a while. I headed out one beautiful Saturday morning earlier this year and the line was dead. I know the usual trains that should be running in the morning and they weren't there. Turns out a Gevo sprung a fuel leak about 3am on the mainline and it took 12 hours to get it off the main and get the mess cleaned up. Of course by 3pm when the traffic started back up, rain had moved in.....


Even the Transcon gets that way, especially with the downturn in traffic and the double-tracking of Abo Canyon. It's not unusual to spend three or four hours at Belen with NO trains entering or leaving the yards, then have four of 'em come in (or go out) right as you're leaving. It happens...


KC Area Ferroequinologist
This has happened to me before, too. I have railfanned the UP Kansas Sub and will sometimes see three or four an hour, but some times I will be there for two or three hours and see nothing. I will then go over to the BNSF Emporia Sub at Holliday (which parallels the Kansas Sub for the first few miles out of Argentine) and hear a parade of trains on the Kansas Sub. This happens to all of us.


Active Member
I usually only wait 30 min or so then I move on. Most days I don't even stop and wait, I hunt the trains down.

Omaha is unique where we have 4 railroads and 2 of the 4 have more than one main in the area. Never more than 30-45 miles from some action. All 4 also have yards so there is always something going on.

I can also care less about roster shots. I would rather be out looking for unique photos an not shooting roster shots. Seldom do I ever shoot multiple trains in one spot unless I find another railfan, then I will hang out and shoot the $_it.

Mr. Pick

New Member
Thank goodness for scanners and my TrainTenna....I'll usually keep moving until I hear one coming and then I'll head to the nearest good spot for a shot. The Chattanooga sub tends to run them in batches, so after the first one I'll usually stay put for a few minutes to see if another one is coming close behind.


CSX's Main Line Subdivision at the moment has a curfew from 8am to 4pm. You'll see nothing until 4pm, when several southbounds depart Louisville in quick sucession. There's usually a few northbounds ready to meet them a bit south of Louisville by then, as well.

Mr. Pick

New Member
CSX's Main Line Subdivision at the moment has a curfew from 8am to 4pm. You'll see nothing until 4pm, when several southbounds depart Louisville in quick sucession. There's usually a few northbounds ready to meet them a bit south of Louisville by then, as well.

Interesting. Do you know why? Track maintenance going on during the day?


You have nothing to complain about. On the Coast here it's Amtrak down in the mid morning, and Amtrak up in the evening. Youpee rarely runs a train down the entire length of the line.
@ SamReeves

I used to live in Monterey area, and I know too well how dead the Coast Line is. You can drive US 101 all the way down through the Salinas Valley and clear on down to L.A. and not see a single train until you get around Santa Barbara or Oxnard area, when you start getting into Surfliner and Metrolink territory. The best bet for seeing trains anywhere near Monterey area is to go to Gilroy and try to catch the outbound CalTrains in the morning and the inbound CalTrains in the evening, or otherwise drive clear to Oakland or some 2 1/2 hours east to the Central Valley (did that a couple of times, actually). There's just nothing in the way of good railfanning in the Monterey Bay area at the moment. However, with that said, it seems like I read somewhere either on this or another forum that UP is making major upgrades to the Coast Line and is preparing to increase freight service on the line? I know that UP has replaced the SP-era searchlight signals, and has been doing a lot of track work on the line, and it seems like it wouldn't make sense for them to waste all of that money on the upgrades if they weren't planning on eventually increasing freight service on the line.

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