For just over a year, a high-definition camera, located at the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis, has been recording the passing trains and live-streaming the action to the “Virtual Railfan” YouTube channel for free.
The ability to observe the trains go by has been a hit among online watchers — with an average daily viewership of 10,000 to 15,000 as about 45 trains pass through Chehalis each day. The camera, purchased by three local train enthusiasts, was set up with the intention of bringing attention to Chehalis as a bustling railroad town and allowing train lovers of all ages to spend some time watching the trains pass through town.
“People can sit at home whether it’s raining or snowing outside and bring up the video and radio and it’s almost like a guided tour. People have discussions about railroad operations and there are some experts that pop in from time to time,” said Robert Scott, one of the three locals responsible for setting up the camera.
However, it became much more valuable when watchers of the live 24/7 camera recently noticed a car stuck on the tracks as a train was quickly approaching.
“So when the vehicle got stuck on the tracks, there were almost 200 people watching that happen from all over the world. They’re watching it unfold live and wondering if the vehicle was going to be hit by the train that was rapidly approaching,” Scott said.
At nearly midnight on Dec. 2, two of the viewers called the Chehalis Police Department, telling them about the vehicle. The police went out to the scene at NW Prindle and Front Street to find a vehicle high-centered on the main rail.
Scott said that several people also called the BNSF emergency contact number and the train was stopped with about 1 and a half miles to spare.
The driver, Kristin Kosmosky, 35 of Chehalis, had left the vehicle and was standing nearby and was cited for DUI that night. The car was towed off of the tracks by Grant’s Towing and was impounded.
Scott said that this isn’t the first time online viewers noticed a vehicle stuck on the tracks. On Nov. 18, viewers noticed a truck that got stuck but it was able to free itself before a train got close.
Other than preventing possible collisions, the rail camera has inspired some tourists to visit the area to watch the trains chugging by in person.
“One guy from California came up and stayed in a hotel in Chehalis for three days because of the camera and he wanted to come and experience it,” Scott said.
The train viewing experience has recently been improved with the addition of a radio antenna receiver on Boistfort Peak, a 3,000-foot peak in the Willapa Hills, allowing viewers to also listen to dispatchers communicate.
“When you watch the railroad, it’s almost like watching trucks on the interstate. You can tell at a glance, the health of the local economy. Here in the Northwest we produce and ship out a lot of wood materials and a lot of the southbound freight trains will have heavy, heavy loads of cut dimensional lumber for the rest of the country,” Scott said.
This past summer, Virtual Railfan watchers started logging every train that goes through Chehalis — recording the destination and the type of cargo. On Tuesday afternoon, a coal train from Wyoming with about 15,000 tons of coal passed by the camera on its way to Canada where the coal will then be exported to Asia.
“There’s a group of railroad photographers and railroad fans that put this together and it’s been a big hit. It doesn’t have the viewership as some of the other rail cams that have been around for a lot longer but we have a steadily increasing number of people,” Scott said.
The Chehalis railroad camera averages about 10,000 to 15,000 views per day and since it went live in October 2019 it has accumulated over 2 million views in September of this year.
You can keep an eye on the railroad and log the passing trains with over railroad enthusiasts on the Virtual Railfan YouTube channel — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfGaUembwA8. The video of the car stuck on the tracks can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/svA0Awev1V0.