On Memorial Day 2020, the holiday lull in rail traffic was taken advantage of when a special high/wide load was hauled from San Onofre, in northern San Diego County to Apex, Nevada. Morning passenger service was interrupted, with Amtrak using a bus link between Anaheim and Oceanside, and Metrolink using buses between Anaheim or Riverside and Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo. Meanwhile, for the portion of the BNSF Railway that this train will operate upon, freight service was halted for several hours as well in order to minimize issues with passing trains.
BNSF train J-SDGDAG-24A consists of two locomotives (SD70ACe 8597 and ES44AC 6245), a Schnabel car and accompanying support cars (two caboose for the Schnabel Car’s crew, a flat with equipment needed for each end of the trip, and two idler flats). The Schnabel car, KRL 3600, is 231-feet 8-inches in length (with this load), has 36 axles and can carry a load of 1,779,260 lbs. It is the largest rail car in the world. For this trip, it is carrying a 770-ton load - a reactor pressure vessel (RPV) from the decommissioned (as of 1992) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), in northern San Diego County. Unit 1's reactor pressure vessel was the component that held nuclear fuel when the plant was operating. During Unit 1’s dismantlement, the RPV's metal shell was placed inside a huge steel cylinder. The cylinder was filled with grout for shielding against radiation, sealed, and has been stored safely at SONGS ever since. There is no liquid inside the container. Once this train arrives in Apex, NV, the cylinder containing the RPV will be unloaded and then trucked to a site in Utah. (Apparently, there are some tunnels on the old Salt Lake and Los Angeles line in northern Nevada that are too tight for this load to continue to Utah by rail.) The ultimate destination is the EnergySolutions facility for low-level (Class A) nuclear waste in Clive, Utah, about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City, where this cylinder will be buried. For more information on this train’s load, click HERE.
Because of this train’s weight, a few of the older bridges along the line needed to be shorn up with hydraulic supports underneath them. As for the high/wide aspect of the load, the Schnabel car can adjust the load’s height or width in relation to the car – particularly useful when passing passenger platforms in stations (the load is moved off-center) or traversing bridges on curves, in which the train crawls through at a snail’s pace and the load is adjusted as necessary from side to side. The maximum speed for this train was 15 mph hour, but the frequent stops to adjust the load meant the train moved much more slowly than that. In fact, to travel the 77.3 miles between Irvine and Cajon took the train 13 hours and 17 minutes, resulting in an average speed between those two stations of just 5.79 mph! (Colton, California – May 25, 2020)