Train Blog
OpsLog - Central Georgia RR - 5/21/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 21 May 2011 21:04

Conflict is part of the drama of being human.

It runs through our lives and our literature. Even in model railroad ops, where we all work in a make-believe world, all working towards the same successful economic conclusion (efficient transportation), there is conflict. Crews have to vie for the dispatcher's limited time. The dispatcher juggles scarce resources (sidings and time) to get trains over the road. Even in the operations arena, the players are trying to do the best job, if only for the cred it brings, the ego boost, the possibility of further invites.

It's all about efficiency, which is the keystone of Darwinism.

The owner of this line had a (to his perception) horrible first run of his route and wanted to improve it. His idea, the abandonment of most of the prototypical operations that make up a railroad, the discarding of rules and uncertainty (i.e. the dispatcher). In other words, pure sequential style. Crews would pick up a card that told them what to do and where to go.

The trouble was that there was no conflict. No trains met. They were all separated by their scripts. My first train, a pulpwood run, was a complete crossing of the division and the servicing of a plant - I did not encounter a single train. Yes, the Omega Man railroad. After my run I went downstairs to watch a movie (The Emperor of the North - great railroad flick).

Eventually it became obvious why railroads have dispatchers. We were all downstairs watching the movie. One poor hogger was struggling with a job and none of the other trains could run until he was through. Finally the owner gave in and started manually telling us how to proceed, just so we could finish the session. While swapping out hoppers at Jackson Yard, another train when by. Never, not since Robinson Crusoe saw the footprint in the sand (fact: readers made much more of that scene than Defoe ever intended) has one man felt so much joy at encountering his fellow. It was such a moment of pure railroadism, holding the siding for another train.

Everyone talked with the owner after, making the case for dispatched operations. I can only hope he listens.

His line, his rules. Or lack there of.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 May 2011 21:26
OpsLog - Nebraska Division - 5/15/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 15 May 2011 20:48

It's been a rather uneventful shift on the dispatcher panel. Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting upstairs while the boys roll through North Platte and Denver. On my laptop control panel, I track them across the division - it's brisk but if you keep the plates spinning fast, they never slow down.

Nearly 4pm now (almost midnight in the simulated world). Got a couple of trains rolling up the hill towards Denver and the Denver local running home to Bailey Yard. Two BNSF runs are merging in, looking for trackage rights west. Things are suddenly tensing up all along the western end of the district. Traffic is building up.

That's when the superintendent calls about two eastbound movements, a freight followed by a passenger, out of Salt Lake for Denver and down the hill. It's not revenue-related, of course - he's just getting equipment moved from staging to staging and I've got to move them. Now it's busy. The Grand Finale.

Okay, one BNSF movement is almost to Denver, so I'll let him go. The other is rolling into Julesburg siding. I look them over and figure out how it will play. Then I call each train - in turn - and given them clearance when the last-called train goes past. You wait for him and you wait for him. Denver local holds for the BNFS drag, then is cleared home. Then the two east extras, same orders to them. And that westbound in Julesburg - once the training passenger train is past, he's clear to Denver. The plates and humming. The trains are moving. I sit back and listen, wondering if I've overlooked something, if I'll hear the humiliating call of "Headlights! Headlights!"

Nothing to do but watch the board. Crews call as they clear into North Platte, into Holderidge, into Denver. As they clear, I drop their markers off the board. Where once there were four trains, now there are three, then two, then one. Now the line is clear, the rails cooling.

"I think we're done down here," the superintendent radios.

I close the program and shut down my computer. That's a wrap.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 May 2011 21:10
Opslog - Longwood & Sweetwater - 5/9/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 09 May 2011 22:02

It's feast or famine with ops attendance sometimes. This weekend's session, we had a number of no-shows. Tonight the L&S looked like a popular nightclub - the room was packed, close, and very hot. Trains were going out with two-man crews (or husband-and-Kimmy crews) to get their work done.

Snatching up a final car on the way to the barn.I crossed my name off the engineer's list, picking instead to run over to Hunt Club with Engineer Steve. He was an old hand at ops, so mostly my job was keeping the paperwork straight and lining turnouts from a distant panel. Easy enough. We clattered home with plenty of time.

But its nice as the session winds down, after a lot of folks have gone home (I like my many friends, but they do clog an aisle). Took out the second Hunt Club turn (with, suspiciously, cars that looked exactly like the ones we'd brought back on the earlier run). Had to hold on a siding to let a couple of trains get into the yard. Finally I could work Hunt Club, just an easy out-of-the-way job. The steam engine I had had a good sound system, so I could tap the whistle signals crisply. Sorted everything out, ran around the train, and picked up a final car on the way out of town. Easy job. It's nice when they are aren't... epic.

Last Updated on Monday, 09 May 2011 22:17
OpsLog - Southeast Virginia Division - 5/7/2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 07 May 2011 20:06

Imagine two railroads, competitors forced by narrow river valley geography to wiggle together like snakes in a drain pipe. That gets you in the spirit for John Wilkes' Southeast Virginia Division, a joint operation of the L&N and Southern Railroads.

Its really neat to dispatch - the two lines cross and recross each other, actually sharing a long section of right-of-way. When two dispatchers work it, they have to clear such moves back and forth, keeping the traffic rolling but not into each other. Today we were short (pregnancies and diarrhea cut back our staff). I ran both desks. Great fun.

There is one section around Goodbee (in the joint trackage) where two shorter sidings form a lag siding, where if you route it right, you actually can have one long passing siding. I remember three decades back where my dad told me about them, wishing that he could site on on his own railroad. Space, of course, kept that from being used. But now I had one right on the panel in front of me. And John, as he passed through the room, half-implied it would be a shame to lose such capacity. If one looked past the fact that it was on prime rails, the shared section that everyone used, it was really low-hanging fruit.

Midway through the session two opposing L&N freights vectored in on one another. I could have passed them anywhere on L&N iron just to play it safe, but that would be inefficient - someone would have to wait. No, Goodbee was dead between them. I angled them in with carefully-constructed warrants to make sure both crews knew which sidings were being used. Wished I could have seen it actually go down, the yellow-nosed diesels edging past one another in the narrow river valley, the turnouts clattering as they threaded past. But I was in the office, reading the next set of warrants to their crews, keeping them moving, getting them on to Tifton and Norton. So cool. I think Dad would have loved to watch it.

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 May 2011 20:26

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