Train Blog
OpsLog - FEC - 5/21/2017 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:40

here is a bit of universal irony here. I'm idling in the heated gravel desert of Cocoa Yard on the Florida East Coast, writing car numbers on lading slips and jotting in pick-up dates on the swaps. This, following a weeklong, daylong, every-damn-second long audit I've only just survived at work. Yes, more paperwork! Yahoo!

But seriously, it's a well-thought-out system, it slows the ops down to a more realistic pace, and I rather like it. Owner Ken Farnham has come up with an even-better way of getting cars to sidings where the trains are assembled in a completely different room and passing paperwork back and forth is frankly impossible. So, yes, I'm jotting down info on the cars going out, the cars coming in, making everything nice and tidy.

It was a good session (even though I got buzzed for a hotbox at the detector and had to set a reefer out in McPhalt's 20 miles away (every available siding was packed or being worked)). I'm not sure what the boys of Buenaventura will make of sixty tons of thawing orange pulp on their rock siding - hey, I'd limped the car there and dumped it. Let management deal with it.

But otherwise, good session. Dispatcher Bev got all the way through and nobody died (nobody was too delayed, either, except a couple of empty rock trains and who cares about them anyway?). The only cheese in the ointment was that two of the crew left early. I don't know what the reasons were for that - it just meant the remaining crews were picking up the slack, leaping from cab to cab to get everything run. On the ride home, Bruce (my copilot) and I discussed this - twenty years ago, you never saw this happen. If you commit to being at a session, you commit to the entire session. You know, the owner doesn’t only arrange half the paperwork or clean half his engines. He puts a lot of effort into this - outside of an emergency, you shouldn't leave until the debrief is done. Hell, bring a book, okay?

But a great session packed with extra runs, so a lot of fun for the guys who stuck it out. Thanks to the Farnhams for a great day on the rails.


Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:58
OpslLog - LM&O - 4/26/2017 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 26 April 2017 22:24

didn't think they could do it.

To get ready for this ops session, we had several Herculean efforts. First, we had Frank and Jonathan rebuilding the entire West Martin throat in one month. I mean, damn, this is overhand track laying. I know that these guys did a lot of make this happen (I could see the alarm toggle open and close remotely for their work sessions). So, in four weeks, they stripped the yard bare, put in more than a dozen turnouts, improved the flow into the critical west end (by double-tracking the leads), wired and tested it in. Steve put the board out in record time. And there you have it. March - crummy twenty-five year old throat. April - brand new yard that runs smooth as silk. Amazing.

Also, John and Peewee Shawn weighted, what, a couple hundred freight cars? There were issues last month and John allowed himself to be foolishly dragooned into the effort by me. And now most of the fleet is a lot more stable. And happily we could still get trains boosted over the Harris summit (with or without helpers). I haven't had a chance to ask folks if it made a difference - that's a follow up for the meeting.

So ops was fun. As always, there are all those little issues. For a couple of people, when it rains, it pours. Westbound passenger service (two movements) had all sorts of problems. In fact, at one point, every westbound train was in distress. It happens. Back in the DS office, I lapped a couple of warrants around Harris Glen - there were a couple of trains running in reversed order which could have resulted in a collision (but thankfully didn't). But everything (except one passenger train) ran, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

But thanks to the MOW crews who did amazing work to get our layout moving in the right direction. And thanks for everyone coming out. After all, it would be no fun to dispatch if nobody was there.

I couldn’t ram trains into each other.


Frank works his new yard with unsorted paperwork!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 22:41
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

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