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OpsLog - FEC - 3/25/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 26 March 2017 09:37

hat could be better on a perfect Saturday than a nice drive through the country? To spend time with two good long-term friends? To hang out with a group of other friends? And be boomers on the wonderful Florida East Coast?

Doesn’t get better, as they say.

I ran an early train, picking up a run in Frontenac to bring home to Jacksonville - easy run, green boards, no hassles. Just horning across the grade crossings and enjoying the run.

The next bit was a little more difficult. Taxied back to Cocoa Yard by 10am to mount up on unit 619 to run a cut of locals over to Buenaventura to spot, and scoop up some cars listed. A little inital confusion finding a likely reefer to take until I found a car marked "REFRIGERATED SERVICE" on the side - yeah, that would do. So down we went, easing in, swapping up, building a cut. Manager Ken has backed this job down a bit so it's not the Rubik’s cube it once was (thank goodness I didn't need to move those pain-in-the-ass hoppers from the limestone facility over to the team track - that was a job-task not missed). So it was good clean switching while trains rolled by. Lots to see and do. And when I was done, the second-trick dispatcher gave me rights back up. It would have been a perfect day to enjoy the scenery on the way back, but you have all the scenic vista of a torpedo tube on the ascending helix - still, I could watch other people trip the detector across the aisle and laugh, har har. Payback is hell, of course, as I would learn.

I scooped up one of the last trains to finish my dance card - 190/191. (I think that was the number plate). Rolled up from Miami to Buenaventura to pick up those same hoppers I'd been so thankful not to move. Neat little switching job, spot the inbounds, tug out the outbounds, run 'round the train and then call for signals home. Rolling along thinking of movie night with Greg and what we might watch. Rolled through the detector near Melbourne and held my breath. It stayed inert. Perfect. "Made it," I boasted. "Made it."


Ahead of me, the signal dropped. The automated detector had picked up a defect in my string. Everyone (having heard my earlier laughs) now laughed best. Dammit.

Turns out the second hopper back had a hotbox. Called the dispatcher and told him where he'd find it. Rolled down to Palm Bay and pushed Squeaky the Red Hopper into the RDA siding, pushing it way down against the bumper to not block access to the facility (bit of an argument about blue flags here - did it mean to not touch the car or not use the siding? I think (since the other guy was a railroader of 35 years) I was wrong).

Once that was tucked away, I looked over to find the green board waiting to take me into staging - the dispatcher had read my mind (about the ready-to-come-home bit, not the why-can't-FEC-run-better-equipment bit). Finished up, got my time-out information, finished the paperwork and then went in to snag one of the last donuts. Great day. And now it was movie night!

Thanks Ken and his group for letting me and my boomers come and run!


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 March 2017 10:26
OpsLog - LM&O - 3/22/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 22:24

don't think our op session was that bad. In fact, at the next business meeting I'll have Sean Spicer come out and explain why it was so good.

So, laugh

No, it really wasn't bad. We were running hot, with both Silver Bullets on time. I was having the usual congestion around Harris Glen, nothing extraordinary until a crew made a mistake, compounded the mistake by backing, then suffered derailments all over the place. There were trains waiting for him, and trains waiting for those trains, and next thing I knew 97 was running hours late. It was so bad that several engineers "audited" me afterwards, coming back to the DO office to question some of my orders. Fortunately I could explain my decisions.

So, I won't pass out blame (because it would embarrass the crew of 244, who are currently listed on the crew sheet). But before we beat up our membership and our layout, let's remember what we are doing here.

First off, we had a lot of visitors, new members and older members self-promoting into higher-difficulty jobs. We had ten year-old engineers learning to write warrants. I even had a newbie who was a little uncertain with his readbacks, but rather than correcting him I let him listen over the phone and pick up the lingo - by the end of the session he was by-the-book bullet-smacking with the best of them. So we had a wide skill level in the house.

The real problem came from train handling and train reliability.

Sure, everyone watches some guy in some video who meticulously hand-lays his track and balances each and every car. He can roll them back and forth, smiling a butthead smile at his accomplishment. But we're in the real world here. We've got cars that are perfect and cars that were bought at swap meets. Sure, we try to go with the better ones but the rubbish-on-wheels somehow find their way back to our rails.

And the trackwork - it's real-railroad trackwork. The layout's been up longer than some of our junior members have been alive. The track has dealt with 27 winters and summers, with thieves leaping on it, with roadbed shifting and track alignment changing. So yes, it may be far from perfect, but it's really rather prototypical.

I'm not saying this as a cheap out. We need to learn how to run our trains like the real railroads. We need to watch our stringing cars like hawks, watching for the first sign of a derailment (that's what that little observation seat is atop of caboose for). And if we make a mistake and end up on the wrong place, what should we do?

First off, don't back up. Real trains, a mile and a half long, don't. They'd call the dispatcher. And they'd dump their flagmen out, the guys with the red flags who keep trains from piling into theirs.

This isn't anything to be upset about, nor to frantically back forty cars up a curving grade to rectify. This is railroading, every bit as much as the warrants we use and the language we play the game with. If you make a mistake, don't back. Just imagine that your flagmen are bailing out front and back, to walk 500 feet down the line in either direction. It's part of the game.

From the reports I got (trusted ones, not from Spicer ones), the mishap at Red Rock could have easily been solved by 244 holding the main he'd accidentally taken. Flagmen could have stopped 271 as it descended from Harris Glen, directing him into the siding. The helpers (again, protected by far-flung flags) could have swapped over to hook on). And rear flaggers could have contacted 66 coming up behind. As the strategy was to have him ride 244 through Red Rock while 271 stood by, this could have been done easily and with a quick verbal approval by the dispatcher. More drastic changes could be resolved with voided warrants rewritten. It's easy.

As our missing cub dispatcher used to put it: "Work it out on the ground".

It's part of the game.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 22:55
OpsLog - FEC - 2/25/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 25 February 2017 20:27

o, the long drive home. Great op session on the Florida East Coast - so good I'm not sure what to comment on. I'd run 920 through Palm Bay to Pinetta, quietly doing my work and advising the dispatcher of what I'd do next so she could set mainline turnouts my way. Even that detector I'd hit was a methodical fix - dropped the car into the closest and most efficient siding and then...

That's when, at Crystal Lake offramp, I almost got creamed.

To get off westbound 408 here, you need to merge across two lanes of onramp, with cars winding up from a brief stop at the toll plaza. Usually they are putting along at 45mph, not accelerating to freeway speed. I checked my right mirror and rearview. Nothing. But there was a guy coming up the far right quickly, shadowing my blindspot and not caring that I had a right signal flashing and was coming over.

When he buzzed down my right side, 10mph faster then me and seemingly out of nowhere, I started in my seat. Gah! My ease-right shift following a perfect day of doing just about everything right ended with me jerking the wheel left and opening distance. I'd simply not seen him in my blind spot and had not fully scanned.

My fault.

But, damn.

And that made me think about my session. The point of ops is to move smoothly and elegantly through your various jobs, making the outcome better than expected. You might help another crew with a difficult-to-reach turnout or uncoupling. You might phrase your call to the dispatcher with more than what you need - perhaps noting an arriving train or denoting the correct track you'll need at your next destination. And for me, the day had been perfect. I'd realigned every turnout, I'd spotted every car, I'd run 920 and 105 the way they were intended to be run. I didn't bug the superintenant once, or cause the dispatcher to have to ask something a second time. I even blew at every crossing, broke my train when parked across a road, handled the bad order by-the-book and even latched onto and towed in a disabled car left by another train.

Hey, I've been operating for three decades. But I've been driving for four. And I still got jumped by a hot head in my blind spot.

Looks like there is always room for improvement.

Look for more ops logs (with more humiliating stories) to follow.

(one thing I did do wrong - the dispatcher called for 920. I listened to two calls for this train, then turned and addressed the others in the room. "Which of you is 920?" Everyone shrugged. They told me their train numbers. "Someone's gotta be 920!" Then Ken walked up. "Aren’t you 920?" I blinked. "Oh yeah, I guess I am...")



Last Updated on Saturday, 25 February 2017 20:54
OpsLog - LM&O - 2/22/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 23:08

eah, it’s been a week.

A few days ago in a prolonged Go game, I pulled a stupid move that likely cost me the game. I'm so upset about this that I sulked all weekend.

And then there was the meeting at work where I was so popular in my regulatory position that everyone who came in sat as far down the table as they could. The only people to sit near me were the last in the room. A friend on the call said she thought I must have felt like Sean Spicer. I mean, shit.

Today was ops. For the last four hours while I'm trying to detangle from work, I got three calls from people who couldn't make it. This was sounding like another loss. Another failure. I didn't know what to expect.

It's 6:40 pm in the wending LM&O mainline through Zanesville. The local is just finishing up its duties. Passenger 95 is due in shortly. Then the Silver Bullet, backed by another drag freight. A coal move is holding off west at Carbon Hill, wanting access. To the east, at nearby Mingo, the local there wants to return home. The river valley is packed with rolling iron, and everything is moving, but we are just a step away from total gridlock. Diesel fumes hang heavy in the mountain dusk.

And that's when a crew working Zanesville's west end sees the drawbar of the primary turnout bend under twenty years of constant loading under those cursed stall motors. Bwang! Out of service. They call me and advise that my mainline is down. Everything is going to have to cut over to the siding. I've just lost 30% of my passing capacity, and every through train will need a warrant to get onto the siding, and another to get off. My paperwork load has doubled. There are trains waiting at the division points and not enough crews to run them.

So I'm creating an <OUT OF SERVICE>marker to flag the Zanesville main display while calling coal X810 to hold in Carbon hill until I can cut him a new order. The railroad is a crowded, confused mess, one mistake from a flaming wreck. We're teetering on the brink of crisis.

I'm having a blast.

And that's the thing.

Harris Local between a lump and a high place (Mike Anderson photo)

Yeah, we're short-handed. Yeah, we have had a layout issue that we'll have to work around. But the crews are running sharp, and I'm trying to pay that off by kicking out warrants fast and getting people over the iron as quickly as possible. Yeah, I dogged Mingo Local in a hole while a parade of westies rumbled past. Harris Glen Local also got delayed as I dug through the to-dos. But we got everything run (thanks to Frank, the train-running machine!). In the end we did it. Great session! I drove home and chalked up a singular win for an otherwise damnible day. Thanks, guys! It was a hoot!


Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2017 23:41

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