BNSF Officially Discontinues Service Over Lead Belt

Discussion in 'Rolla-Lebanon Subdivision' started by wpmoreland719, Aug 30, 2011.

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  1. wpmoreland719

    wpmoreland719 Member Supporter

    According to the Surface Transportation Board's website, BNSF filed a petition to formally discontinue service over the "lead belt" in April of this year. On August 17, the STB announced that it had granted BNSF permission to discontinue service. The reason for petition, according to BNSF, was the contamination of lead throughout the line, and the subsequent cost of over $25,000,000 to rehabilitate it (remove the contamination, plus general repairs). The line is not abandoned, but the writing is on the wall. Thus the Salem Branch's final sad chapter is coming to a close.

    Here is a timeline of the Lead Line as I know it:

    1966: Frisco constructs a new bridge over the Meramec River at Birdsnest to replace the steel truss structure. The new bridge rest on heavy girders atop concrete piers, sufficient to hold the heavy trains hauling lead out of the mines in the Viburnum area.

    1967-1968: Frisco constructs the Lead Line off of the Salem Branch beginning at a point about two miles north of Keysville. The new line is built with concrete ties, the longest in the United States at the time. However, many of these are defective and are replaced with wood ties. Governor Warren Hearnes uses a gold wrench to turn a gold bolt to secure the last rail. The line also traverses part of the old Sligo and Eastern right of way south of Viburnum.

    1968-1980: Business for the Frisco over this line is apparently good. Typically four GP38-2's are used to handle a single train. Sometimes a GP35 can be found in the consist, judging from a few photos that I have. A switch engine is also stationed at the St. Joe mine in the early years.

    1980: Ownership, along with the rest of the Frisco system, passes to the Burlington Northern.

    1984: Original line from Lead Jct. to Salem is abandoned. Dismantled the following year.

    1995: Burlington Northern merges with Santa Fe. Blue and yellow SF diesels start appearing on the line.

    1996: Trains magazine runs an article on the line entitled "BN Gets the Lead Out".

    2000 (approx): Soil around the Cherryville area is found to be contaminated with lead. Crews who work the line have been hosing out contaminated gondolas at the Cherryville siding for years. Service is down to one train per week, usually on Friday.

    2002: BNSF operates the last revenue train over over the lead line the day before Thanksgiving. The line is officially embargoed on December 2nd.

    2003: BNSF dismantles the Cuba yard and begins removal of contaminated ballast and soil.

    2004: Work in the Cuba yard is completed. In April, BNSF sends two four-axle diesels down the line to pick up gondolas and hopper cars that have been sitting idle at the mines. One the return trip, the train derails north of Viburnum.

    2006: An anonymous person donates $50,000 to research the possibility of turning the line into a tourist operation. The person is believed to be millionaire train enthusiast John Woods, a St. Louis resident with a large farm west of Steelville.

    2008: John Woods is killed in a motorcycle accident in Shannon County in October. Nothing more has become of the idea of the line becoming a tourist operation.

    2011: BNSF applies for persmission to discontinue service on the line with the STB in April. Permission by the STB is granted in August. The only part of the Salem Branch that is now active is about a half-mile stretch from Cuba Yard to the Georgia Pacific plant.

    Pat Moreland,
    Union Mo.
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  2. frisco1522

    frisco1522 Staff Member Staff Member

    John's plan was to take up the standard gauge rail and lay double track 15" gauge from Cuba to Steelville and run steam excursions. I think originally he was looking for a standard gauge steam engine.
  3. wpmoreland719

    wpmoreland719 Member Supporter

    I tried to quote your post, Don, but for whatever reason, I'm having trouble. Anyway, that makes sense about John's aspirations of making a miniature operation out of the line. I never met him personally, but when I was working as a deputy sheriff in Crawford County, I stumbled upon his project while responding to an alarm at one of his guest houses on the Chaumiere Farm. I was amazed at the three mile 15" gauge railway that was still under construction on the farm. I told my lieutenant (who shared my interest about such things) about it and a few days later, we drove out there just to look at the project. I think the foreman was a little annoyed, but he allowed us to take a brief tour of the shop anyway.

    John's tragic death was a huge blow to the possibility of Steelville ever seeing a train again, full scale or otherwise.

    Pat Moreland,
    Union Mo.
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  4. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    Thanks for the update Pat. Sad to see another piece of the SLSF go away even though this was one of the newer (maybe the newest) line built. All the more reason for us modelers and historians to record the history in words, photos and models.
  5. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    A few notes to supplement Pat's report...

    My dad said that the Frisco took its tie budget, which was calculated for wood ties, and then decided to buy the concrete fewer concrete ties placed on larger centers. The result was damaged ties, and concrete ties that pumped mud up through the ballast section. The Frisco came back and interlaced wood ties with the concrete. The line used 112 lb head-free rail, some of which was taken from the KC Sub's East Mainline, which was abandoned between Crossover D and Crossover E. During 1984 the BN placed 132 lb RE rail between Cuba and Lead Jct.

    Will try to post the Lead Line track chart in the next few days.
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  6. frisco4301

    frisco4301 Member

    Karl, I first saw head-free rail motoring the Chickasha Sub several years ago. What was the idea behind its use?
  7. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    Dimensionally 112lb RE and 112 lb HF have the same base and web. As the name implies, the difference lies in the head or ball of the rail. The RE section ball is generally shaped like a rectangle whose dimensions 1-11/16" high by 2-23/32" wide. The HF section ball might be describes as an inverted trapezoid, whose dimensions are 1-13/16" high by 2-11/16" wide on the top. The angle of the "trapezoid" sides is 58 degrees. Overall the HF section was 6-5/8" high and the RE section 6-3/4" high. The taller head was supposed to provide a "thicker" wearing surface as well as to provide perhaps just a bit more vertical stiffness. The rail didn't fare well on territory with sharp curves. My father said that a small amount of wear would change the horizontal girder properties of the rail, mechanical tampers had difficulty grasping the rail, and there just wasn't as much vertical surface on the gauge side to wear away. The smaller surface area under the ball of the rail made it difficult to keep the joints tight, so rail batter was a problem. He was happy when the Frisco put 132 lb CWR on the KC Sub West main. The Frisco also used 110 lb HF. Apparently, the Espee was a big user too. I was surprised when I moved to Houston, and I saw that the Sunset line was still using jointed 112 lb HF rail.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 30, 2011
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  8. gbmott

    gbmott Member


    I had always thought that most HF designs also increased the cross-section of the web somewhat, strengthening it. Am I wrong about that?

  9. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    The web thickness for 112 RE and 112 HF is 19/32"
  10. Joseph Toth

    Joseph Toth Member

    Taking in the environmental concerns around the world in regards to contaminated soil, water and air, what would have been Frisco┬┤s approach concerning this issue if it were still with us?

    Joe Toth
  11. Brad Slone

    Brad Slone Member Supporter

    Any idea how long till they began removal of track? I always thought the way the tracks snaked around right up against the backside of the businesses downtown would make for some interesting modeling.

    Brad Slone
  12. wmrx

    wmrx MP Trainmaster

    Many thanks to Karl for posting the info on the early use of concrete ties and head-free rail. I have never heard a positive comment from MOW employees concerning head-free rail.

    It pains me to learn of any rail abandonment. I understand that times change, but it still bothers me. I know for a fact that many previous abandonments were extremely short-sighted.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2011
  13. wpmoreland719

    wpmoreland719 Member Supporter

    The Lead Line has not been abandoned. It is, however, embargoed and is officially no longer in service. I believe that there is still the possibility that it could be sold as is and operated as a short line, but that would be long shot.

    Pat Moreland,
    Union Mo.
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  14. Joseph Toth

    Joseph Toth Member

    Do any members have information on the amount of track that the Frisco abandoned up to the period when BN assumed operations and later, former Frisco track that was abandoned by BN or BNSF? Also, in lieu of total track abandonments including gaining trackage rights over another carrier to serve locations that both served how many former Frisco on line locations were thus left without any rail service and how has the lack of rail service affected these communities economically? This includes the AT&N and QA&P of course!

    Joe Toth
  15. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    I believe that Roger T has posted such a list. Use the search tool and poke around.
  16. RogerRT

    RogerRT Staff Member Staff Member Supporter

    I posted that list years ago, I've got a better one I'll post when I get back from Wellington in a couple of days. Too bad about the lead line but I had a feeling the end was near so in early March 2010 I extensively photographed the entire line, I believe the total was over 600 photos from Cuba to Buick. I got to almost every location (including a 2 mile hike to Lead Jct.) except for a couple of the big bridges east of Cherryville which were too far to get to. Attached are some photos of the 3/7/2010, the #1 & 2 were taken at the HWY 19 Xing in Cherryville and the last 2 were taken at the end of the line in Buick.


    Attached Files:

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  17. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    Thanks, Roger. I love to get the motorcar out of my brother's garage and take a ride. I wonder if the BNSF would be amenable to the idea. The paved crossings would be problematic.
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  18. RogerRT

    RogerRT Staff Member Staff Member Supporter


    Talk to the right people and they might hyrail you down there...

  19. trains1504

    trains1504 Member

    I am interested in finding out a little information about the Frisco lead line. I would like to know when the line opened and who were the first mines and smelters that the Frisco did business with. And possibly if the Frisco may have shipped any lead ore to any off line customers east of St. Louis.

    Thanks for your help
    Mark Haun
  20. Oldguy

    Oldguy Member Supporter

    Roger - what is that electric piece of equipment in photo 06-(b)? Looks like a car puller.
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