If it happens as the letter describes, the 2019 steam mileage, including a 1,000-mile roundtrip from the steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo., to Ogden, Utah, in May to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad, would be almost four times as many miles as UP steam operated in 2016 and 2017.
In those two years, the Omaha-based railroad ran 4-8-4 No. 844 on three excursions each year, totaling 3,077 and 3,189 miles, respectively, according to an Aug. 21 letter from UP Senior Manager Mechanical Operations Randell Gaston to the FRA. He estimated that in subsequent years that UP would run three to five trips totaling 4,000 to 6,000 miles per year.
The railroad only operated No. 844 on the Cheyenne Frontier Days train in July 2018 for a total of 441 miles. Because UP has not issued a schedule for its 2019 operations, the August 2018 letter is the first indication to extent to which observers might see newly rebuilt Big Boy 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 and No. 844. However, it was prepared months before the railroad adopted its own brand of Precision Schedule Railroading, which could change things.
UP on Wednesday said the schedule announcement for No. 4014 and stablemate 4-8-4 No. 844 has been delayed from a planned mid-February announcement. “We originally planned to release the Big Boy No. 4014 and Living Legend No. 844 tour schedules earlier this month,” the railroad said in an email to members of its online steam club. “However, details concerning the route and schedule are still being worked out.”
Last spring, UP said No. 4014’s Cheyenne-Ogden journey would take several days in order to give the public plenty of opportunities to see the locomotive and that the engine would travel “virtually all over the system.”
The FRA told UP it does not need waivers for Nos. 844 or 4014 or Challenger 4-6-6-4 No. 3985, which is stored out of service in Cheyenne, because UP as a railroad company system has met the regulatory requirements for an extension of PTC compliance from Dec. 31, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2020. It also noted a host of exemptions for steam excursion operations on PTC-equipped main lines of Class II and Class III railroads.
No. 4014 has completed its hydrostatic boiler test, and is expected to see operational steam tests in coming weeks to break in the engine and also to test the mileage of its new oil fired system. The railroad has said it plans to pose the Big Boy nose-to-nose with No. 844 at Ogden on May 9 to mark the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.