Train Blog
OpsLog – WAZU RR – 4/8/3018 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 08 April 2018 18:09


According to our host Doc Andy, it’s a little nowhere place whose only reason for existence is to get Portland-Seattle rail traffic by each other. But I like it.

People with kids (tired people, with no money and sleep) will tell you that having kids is a way for you to gain posthumous fame. My one answer to that is “Name your four grandparents.” I guess that matters to some, that you are remembered and made a difference.

Well, for me, it’s Ayers. See, on the WAZU RR, it was jammed right next to another town. It wasn’t rare to have trains miles apart look like they were passing. As the usual dispatcher on the line, that was a common ghost story I’d be told. So, one debrief I told Doc:

“You should bump up Ayers a quarter inch.”

Oh, an I also told him that the original name, “Ayers Siding”, was a disaster waiting to happen. It becomes a who’s-on-first sort of thing, with me ordering a train to Ayres Siding. “Ayres siding-siding?” “No, Ayers siding main.”

So we came into the session today and Ayers (only Ayers, nothing more) was elevated above the other track. Trains still passed within six scale feet, but suddenly they were miles apart.

And that’s important to me, saying something and making a change in the world. And I’m not talking about something as small as a wiggling poop-squirter; I’m talking model railroading here.

Anyway, thanks for all the solids for showing up for Docs session, and especially Bruce Metcalf for dispatching. When I was giving the chance to “simply run trains”, I “reluctantly” took it, all while mentally throwing my hat in the air. I dispatch enough (read yesterday’s piece). I wanted to run. Through Ayers. A little higher up.

Great fun!


Last Updated on Sunday, 08 April 2018 20:29
OpsLog – 4/7/2018 – L&N PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 07 April 2018 21:17

Lightning boomed outside the windows. Hunched in their seats, the two men struggled to keep a mulit-engine explosion from happening. They fought with their controls, the switches on their consoles unresponsive, even haywire, their radios filled with static, the voices on the other end indistinctive against the ether. Sweat plopped onto their crumpled working diagrams. Suddenly came a total power failure, the screens black, the drone of the distant engines winding down.

Then the host entered the room. “I shut off power to fix a broken turnout. Lunchtime.”

A cockpit view (Photo: M. Anderson)

Yeah, it was that sort of an ops session. I wasn’t talking airplanes above, no. This was what was going on in the two-man dispatcher office where Tom Wilson ran the Southern Railroad and I the L&N. The radios had issues, the room was full of chatter, there was a thunderstorm. Tom’s radio volume kept fading out. We were both running things off a shared switch panel that still has, um, features. We’d activate one turnout and another (usually under a train) would throw. And we were both trying to keep track of all our movements, not on the unrealistic magnetic board but on time sheets (where you track trains across your division and keep them from ramming others (if you remember my piece on vertigo from last week, it’s far greater here. Eventually you have a wide sheet filled with times, lines, arrowheads and expletives – it looks like something crazy people in crime dramas fill the walls of crummy apartments with)).

But nobody crashed (at least none the L&N side). I moved twenty-two trains under sixty something warrants under a four-hour session. And we had fun. With all this going on, we kept two intertwined railroads running. Even when we plugged the yard. Even when a train passed a fouling point and got scraped by another in Ramsey Tunnel. That railroad moved. And we have a lot of fun doing it.

Great time with a great crew. Thanks to the host, John, for having us and the engineers for putting up with us.

Can’t wait until next time!


Last Updated on Saturday, 07 April 2018 21:22
OpsLog - FEC - 3/31/2018 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 31 March 2018 23:52

ilot friend of mine told me about getting vertigo once. He was flying formation with another jet, looked down his wingtip at the other, saw his running lights and the lights of the city rotating beneath him as they orbited the field. And suddenly he lost it. He just rolled out (on instruments) and flew for a minute or two to center himself on his bank-n-turn, just getting everything squared away.

Same thing happened to me on Ken Farnham’s Florida East Coast today. I had the panel, dozens of lights and switches telling me a story, of indicators glowing and moving across a formalized diagram of the railroad. Under my hands and pencil, the train sheet with all those positions circled and marked. For three hours I’d been moving things with no problems. And thing – blink – lost it.

Just sat there and couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. I’d had in my mind that two locals were working City Point, a train was holding at Cocoa Yard while another pecked around him moving cars. Train was holding North at Frontenac . The coal drag out of the power plant was already through Titusville, running into the yard under a special order to run against traffic flow. Everything made perfect sense until it didn’t.

It was blood in the water as soon as I asked for “Trains in City Point, please call dispatcher.” I could hear the laughs in the crew room. I tried to rebuild the picture in my mind’s eye. This has happened before to me in dispatching, dozens of times. All dispatchers get it. Just happened a few weeks back on the LM&O. But this was a total shutdown.

To make matters worse, while trying to dig my way out, I forgot to align the primary yard turnout and sent a train the wrong way (into Palm Bay rather than Titusville, causing a near head-on in the tube (thankfully the crews spotted it and stopped the trains).

Just like my buddy, I eventually got my horizon leveled and trusted my mind and not my instincts. Everything was back to running again. But yes, it’s something to get a silver alert in the FEC headquarters on the panel.

Still, everything ended well. We got through the rest of the session fine and everything was running on the clock.

And on the good side, I managed the four-train meet at Titusville, no small trick in itself. But I’m looking forward to facing the green machine again and see if I can do even better.

Watch this space.


OpsLog – LM&O - 3/28/2018 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 22:43

s the forward trucks of 247 West rattled over the points of Bound Brook throat, I figured this was shaping up to be a strange run. I’d only just scrambled aboard ten minutes before – she was already four hours late (her original crew had been pulled for a coal run earlier). And strangely, 271 (not due out for two more hours) was running ahead. They were already nosing into Calypso Yard some distance ahead of me – heard it over the horn. The problem was, all our pickups were on a shared yard track, meaning they’d have to dig their cuts from behind my cuts, both there and Martin.

Was wondering how this would resolve as I pushed into the upper runs and gassed 247 through the beautiful spring midday, sending ballast over the side of the Lackawanna bridge to bounce off the roofs of the new housing below. Easing into Calypso, I was happy to see 271 was doing setup switching. They’d just gotten their own cut out and set mine aside. Even better, the crew was willing to let me run ahead. And even betterer, they’d work up my warrant while I cut in these pickups and run the air up. As we rolled past his cab, Sarge handed the paperwork across. Now built, I cracked the throttle to run 2 and took her out on the high rail, getting a short run over to Hellertown. After meeting 244 there, we had an uneventful run over the summit (well, uneventful other than relying on magic helpers to cross the top).

Martin Yard was a busy place. We came in and followed Yardmaster Frank’s instruction (does he ever use his own units?), pushing and fetching and backing. Just as we built our train up, 271 eased in next to us. It as actually pretty cool. With that, I cracked into run 3 and angled across the shiny new turnouts to departure track 1, watching the river flow past and noticing a yard flunky chasing my caboose furiously waving a red flag. Dumping air, we stopped. Turns out there was a local coming in on our departure track. Frank was reading the riot act to the dispatcher but finally I got a way to worm out of there. Worked up to Mingo Junction where the following occurred.

Took the main (as order) to meet a train (as ordered). Actually met two train, train 298 and train-X, a “special train” (three units just test running without dispatcher authority). Train-X held the siding and remained after 298 cleared. My new warrant said I was waiting for the Zanesville Local to arrive before running to Cincinnati. The Zanesville Local showed me his paper (technically a small operations cheat) and he was waiting for 271 (who was currently going into emergency after the nasty shock of emerging from Jackson Tunnel to find my caboose occupying the main.

So, see the problem? I was waiting on the train in front of me to come, but he couldn’t until he met the train behind me, who was blocked.

There comes that moment in operations when the dispatcher comes out of his room to fume and fluster at all us idiotic crews for following his orders. That was one of those moments.

We worked it out, of course. Train-X backed down into Mingo Industrial, freeing 271 to go around me and unlock the local, which unlocked me. I followed 271 (musing on how I’d passed him, only to be passed in return) and ease in beside him in Cincinnati. Came out of staging to return some engines, to see a crazy long train (lead units – 298 – midtrain units – 414 (coal drag) and helpers behind working their way over Harris Glen.

Yeah, one of those nights. But fun.

Final thoughts: I’m sure Bad Johnathan is pissed that he ran a solid session and dicked up the final meet in the eleventh hour. That’s railroading. But he did yeoman’s work through the balance of the session. So the club now has another trained dispatcher (meaning I can run even more). Good job!



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