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Thursday, 28 July 2011 19:34

The dispatcher's panel showing the west slope, hot time!One thing about last night’s ops – there comes a point in any game/situation/reality where the human mind simply cannot clock any faster, when you’ve hit that wall and know that every synapse is firing.

That session was one of those events. I was working the radio with one hand, mousing and order-writing with the other. I’d knock out warrants and more calls would come in. I always had a train or two on the line, waiting for clearance.

The problem (engineered to be just that) is Harris Glen, the summit of our line. It’s a long run up the hill on either side, with helpers working each train on the upgrade. At the top, there is a small siding that can’t handle the longer coal trains without a saw-by. Add to the fact that the crack passenger trains MEET at Harris at 7:40 in the morning (right when the railroad is at peak load) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Or dispatcher melt-down.

In an effort to keep the boys moving, I was issuing orders fearfully, sorta-kinda sure that I wasn’t directing trains into collisions. I’d double-check my standing orders, give it a second’s thought then push them into the mix. Everything was turning into a blur. I was kicking warrants out like a copier. I knew that if I broke away for a moment, went outside to look at the rain roaring off the roof, went to the can, anything, I'd never hit that momentum again.

Funny thing: from the room it didn’t see that bad (I was later told). A train would ease into the sidings at the mountain’s base (Red Rock and Hellertown), get a shaky order to proceed to Harris Glen after the arrival a train or two. The helpers would drop off a downhill movement, cross-over and couple on. After the awaited train passed, the engineer would crack the throttle and up he’d go, blue smoke through the boreholes as he pushed his load upgrade. At the top, he’d meet a train or two and then get a fast warrant to run down the far side. Once clear, he’d pick up a curt Hail-Mary clearance to get him off the division. Not that bad.

On the layout, quiet movements of trains, all doing their assigned tasks.

In the dispatcher's room, pure pulse-pounding, grin-cracking chaos. Loved it.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 July 2011 20:21
 
Opslog LM&O - 07/27/2011 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 21:53

Punch-drunk after moving 14 trains across the summitIt's a lot of work to set up for a model railroad session at the club. We've got 15 scale miles of mainline, which doesn't include all the industrial and yard trackage. We've also got to put member's engines on six freights, four passengers, three locals, two coal moves and perhaps a few unscheduled extras. We've got to clean all the rails, get the power up and checked, hook up the dispatcher computer, sync the clocks, activate the phones. And we've got to agree to an equitable distribution of crews, so everyone gets to run what they feel like running. Quite a tall order with only thirty minutes to do it.

I was in the back doing the computer, getting the phones up, activating the fast clocks. Members are coming in, nosing over the signup sheet, picking their runs, setting out their engines. Other guys are using rubbing alcohol on the tracks, buffing away a month's corrosion. The yard master checks his cards. The club electrician clears the boosters. Twenty guys are doing what needs to be done, moving from job to job like ants. I dunk under the layout to clean the spiral tunnel that's hard to reach. A helper crew lets me know that he'll be boosting all regular tonnage over the Harris Glen tonight. The engineer of Silver Bullet 1 tosses a sarcastic comment about the new timetable. I check the Martin yardmaster: he's ready. The first freights are reporting hooked up. Someone asks a question - an over-the-shoulder answer as I head for the back office. On goes the headset. I call for a radio check. Train 202 gives me a five-by and asks for the first warrant. I punch the hot button for the clock, confirm a minute's fast-passage, dictate the first order while writing it out. "Warrant one to train 202 east, Cincinnati, checkbox two: Zanesville, checkbox six; two boxes checked". Here comes the readback and the whirlwind starts.

These are my guys. Unlike elected representatives, fellow drivers and coworkers, these guys know what to do. We'll move lots of trains tonight...

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 22:17
 
Opslog LM&O - 06/22/2011 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 21:33

With warrants (where a dispatcher reads checkbox orders to a crew, who reads them back) there is a handy little order for "Not in effect until arrival of train ____ ". With this, you can latch orders. If Train 101 is going from A to C, and train 102 is at B, wanting to go to A, you can cut an order to 102 that clears him but it isn't "in effect until arrival of 101". If a dispatcher is clever, he can latch orders ahead of time, letting the trains roll as events trigger them. It's really cool... when its done right.

The problem with tonight was that we had our top crews for trains 1 and 2 of the Sliver Bullet, the line's crack passenger trains. I really wanted to give them rights over everyone so I gave them mile-spanning warrants, throwing out "not in effect until" orders to all the moody frights laboring over the summit at Harris Glen. It came about that the professional crews of SB1 and 2 wanted to run on their timetables, something we've screwed around with for months and haven't really printed out yet. A copy was located (in the bottom of someone's op's apron pocket) and we went with that. So the Silver Bullets were out and I was clearing the mains well ahead of them, latching all sorts of orders on their passage.

Unfortunately, the version of the timetable was a really old one, with long, long stops at the stations. The next thing I know, I had the entire railroad latched up, waiting for a train sitting miles away, coaxing its passengers gently aboard. Grumbles and complaints rose from the railroad room. The natives were getting more restless by the minute.

Swallowing nervously, I cut an order to 202 on the west slope of Harris, giving him rights to run up from Red Rock. I knew he was waiting for the long overdue Silver Bullet 1, so I voided his prior order (with the wait) and got him up to the summit. Okay, things were finally moving.

I changed another order then another, trying to unsnarl my railroad. The problem was all the latched orders - as tangled as the alliances of pre-World-War-One Europe. And so that's how I got train 247 west sitting at Hellertown waiting for helpers, while the awaited helpers were at the summit behind train 202, who had "not in effect" orders for 247. Which meant both trains were sorta waiting for each other. And I couldn't get the helpers around and down the hill, because the Silver Bullet 1 was blocking the main at Harris, engaged its timeless activity of "passenger embarking".

Yessir, I'd locked the railroad up nice and tight.

Worked it out by voiding 202's prior order and ran him down past 247, with another order to the helpers to follow him down. But all this threw me off my game - I was making little dorky mistakes for the rest of the night.

Sometimes we dispatch. Sometimes we just push plastic back and forth.

Nobody died, nobody cried.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 21:59
 
OpsLog - Florida East Coast - 6/18/2011 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 19 June 2011 07:12

On the panel again on the FEC (as mentioned HERE). Always easier the second time around - I know what to expect. And now we're in the zone.

In the early days of programming (back before SOX and process and other such rubbish) I'd go into the zone a lot. Also, writing sometimes puts me there. This is when you are furiously working on multiple levels, with your brain seemingly running at capacity, fully engaged. In the zone, time doesn't pass, it doesn't even exist. You are fully focused, dealing with each issue as they come up.

I've got the sheet on the desk and the panel on the wall, all lit with yellow and green. I've got a local working Palm bay, a coal drag swapping out the power plant, and three trains nosing past each other at Titusville. For a moment or two, it feels like I'm about to tip under, that I can't remember who is where doing what. Deep breath. Look at the sheet. Remind myself. Keep everyone moving.

I'm told I chatter too much while I dispatch but honestly I can't remember it. I just know I'm moving trains across the division, one after another. The superintendent chides me twice for getting trains through too fast - I'm not checking the schedule and am overloading the yard. I try to correct this, even though it feels like a personal failure, a crew sitting motionless, looking at an inexplicable red board.

Eventually the superintendent calls the session - I exhale and look at the clock. It's after 4:30pm and we started just before 1pm. I sorta remember a thunderstorm, the lights blinking (when the [panel came back up, I had to reactivate all the signals). I remember laughing with the superintendent about the hash a local made of Palm Bay, of some issues with the new yardlette, of a short or two. But on the table before me are two sheets with my abominable handwriting, showing trains meeting and proceeding. The nearby arrivals box is packed full of train paperwork; did we move that much?

I get home an find I'm knackered. After dinner, I can hardly keep my eyes open. I'm asleep by 9:30pm.

Yeah, it was a blast.

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 June 2011 07:40
 
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