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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it

Date: 10/16/16 14:18
Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: TAW

Being a train dispatcher is (well…used to be) about managing the assigned piece of railroad. Long ago, that involved actually running it. The train dispatcher was responsible for everything that happened, including ensuring that work on line was done, track maintenance was done, signal work is done, defective track and equipment is handled, scheduled trains are on time, unscheduled trains time across the road is minimized, terminals fluid, hours of service tieups are minimized and if necessary, crews are taken to the terminal for rest as quickly as possible.

Just as the conductor runs the train but not the engine, the dispatcher runs (ran) the railroad, not the trains. That involves knowing what can and can’t be done for every aspect of activity on the territory. That’s why the guys who started my train dispatcher career insisted that I learn locomotives, switching, track, signals, yards, and everything else I would encounter or supervise. They did and now it was my turn.

Over the years, I have only had a few instances of working out a problem with a train or engine crew. Generally, I set them to something that I knew could be done and let them apply their skill and knowledge to doing it.
Sometimes a big problem came up and I had to talk over solutions with train crews, operators, signal maintainers, etc. in order to develop a feasible out of the box solution (don’t try that in the 21st Century). http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,1160979,1160979#msg-1160979

I’m not about to tell somebody how to do their job. They are out there and I’m not. They are professional at their job and I’m not, but we can pool experience.

One bitter cold night, I was working Havre-Whitefish MT. The line was mostly single track CTC with stretches of double track ABS through the Rockies, across Marias Pass. There were two short single track segments in the double track over Marias Pass, between east and west Java, across the Java bridge, and between Pinnacle and Paola through two tunnels. The line was single tracked through the tunnels in 1960 to allow high cube boxcars and auto racks. Traffic was off and single tracking was much more convenient than fixing the problem while keeping the second track (the same approach that was applied at Mukilteo, Edmonds, and Interbay). There was a wayside readout hotbox detector at Paola, before the tunnels. (like http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,3941961,3942713#3942713)

The conductor of an east man came to the phone at Paola. He had bad news and good news. The bad news: they had a burned off journal. The good news, the car was still on the railroad. The bigger picture bad news was that it was it was the middle of the night on a single track line with no place to set out the car. There was no road access out there. This would be a hook job.

As was typical for that time of night, this was the only train out there and would be for many hours.

I talked over the quandary with the conductor (who had been working that mountain for decades and was well aware of the need to be self-sufficient in north country railroading, especially mountain north country railroading). I asked him if he thought that if he put a real tight binder (hand brake ) on the car, if the rail was frosty enough that he thought they could slide it without derailing.

Yeah, I think that will work.

Let’s try it. Make a cut and take it to Essex.

I’m going to need to ride it to be sure it stays on the track. I can’t go through the tunnels. How about if we shove back to Red Eagle and leave it on the wye? I’ll ride it down. I think that if we keep it down to around walking speed, we can do it.

Now, this conductor is talking about shoving a 6,000 ton train at walking speed nine miles down a 0.8% descending grade. He’s going to ride the stirrup for those nine miles in way below zero temperature to be sure that there is no sign of impending derailment. I knew the hoghead and knew that he could do it. Collectively, we couldn’t come with anything better, so off they went.

A couple of hours later, the car was in the wye at Red Eagle and it was back to railroading as usual.

On the other hand, there have been times that I had to, let’s say, provide encouragement, or offer a strong suggestion that maybe some folks would take as micromanaging or maybe babysitting, neither of which is a good practice.

One cool, rainy night while handling Vancouver – Wabash WA (Centralia South), I had a north man that was struggling. He was right up to tonnage for the power, as in right up to tonnage. The engineer was known for not being very good. Mostly, it wasn’t for tearing up trains, because he never got that far. If anything was tight, he assumed that he couldn’t’ do it, which made him right. He couldn’t.

He called me as he approached Vader. The 0.9% ruling grade was just ahead of him. Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it.

Now, I was sure that it would take them a long time to get up to Napavine, but as I watched since they left Longview Jct., I didn’t think they were going to stall on the hill. However, I knew this engineer and knew that if he was sure he couldn’t make it, he wouldn’t. There were no other trains around, so doubling wouldn’t screw up my railroad, but I thought that it would put the train crew out there for an hour or so in the cold and wet needlessly.

How fast are you going now?

He told me.

Sand ok?

Working fine, but we’re only going….

Keep on coming, I’ll be right back.

I’m not a locomotive engineer, have never been one and don’t claim to be one. However, when I learned to be a train dispatcher, I was told that I had to know at least the fundamentals of anything that occurred on my railroad. That included running an engine. I’ve done it a couple of times, but as I said, I’m not about to claim that I’m an engineer and wouldn’t suggest that I could tell an engineer how to run an engine. However, this was a unique case in which maybe I could actually help the guy.

The speed on a grade and the speed for the same train on a different grade are related as the ratio of the grades. For example, if a train can do 30 on a 0.4% grade, it will do 10 on a 1.2% grade (0.4/1.2=.3333 x 30 mph). The grade from Vader to Napavine is not constant. The grade increases gradually for the first six miles, then is a 0.9% grade for about three miles. I got out my track chart and figured the average grade between Vader and Winlock, figured the speed that I thought he would be making at Winlock, then took the next ratio and figured the speed I thought he would be moving at the top of the hill. I got out my Red Book (Air Brake and Train Handling Manual) and looked at the short time ratings for the engines (no AC power then; this was all first and second generation stuff). Mmmmm – he’ll be in short time by the top of the hill. How long? A little more math showed me that it SHOULD BE about 13 minutes in the 15 minute rating if the engine held its feet. He said he had good sand so…

Keep after it. You’ll be in 15 minute rating for 13 minutes.

Now, that wasn’t scientifically accurate. The individual engines themselves could make a difference, as could the makeup of loads and empties, and the difference of weather over the 200 foot elevation change. I wouldn’t imagine telling any other hoghead, but this guy needed some confidence to actually be a hoghead.

I watched the painfully long time that they took in the circuit between Vader and Winlock and the more painfully long time they took between hitting the circuit between Winlock and Napavine South and knocking down the signal at Napavine South. The engineer called me.

Hey dispatcher. We made it! I was in 15 minute zone for 13 minutes and we started to pick up speed! Thanks a lot!

I was a little surprised that what I figured worked so accurately, but it did. Thanks all of you engineers of my past who showed me how to do what they did as just part of the job.

I didn’t hear from the guys on the caboose, but I knew that they knew I kept them from a long wet, cold night on Napavine Hill.

Date: 10/16/16 15:25
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: mundo

Another Great Story from the past!.    Keep them coming.

One job description you overlooked, was receiving weather reports from all the on line agents.   Sun, Rain, Snow  Temperature.
That went on the train sheet, as well as the local agents train OS report.

Never an operator, but spent many a day/night as a teenager at the local station  1947-1951.
Learned a lot about basic railroading of the era. 


Date: 10/16/16 15:50
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: TAW

mundo Wrote:
> Another Great Story from the past!.    Keep
> them coming.
> One job description you overlooked, was receiving
> weather reports from all the on line agents.  
> Sun, Rain, Snow  Temperature.
> That went on the train sheet, as well as the local
> agents train OS report.

Oh yeah. It was more than merely an act of writing it because it was required. It was a matter of knowing how the weather would affect the railroad. On long CTC territories where there were no operators and there could be a variety of climatic conditions (I once had snow at Tehachapi, a deluge rainstorm in Bakersfield, and clear, calm, 80 at Fresno), I would ask train crews to keep me posted on weather and related conditions such as signs of potential flooding or snow buildup.


Date: 10/17/16 17:49
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: dbinterlock

Man I can't wait to read the latest TAW stories. You know that calculation is pretty good, opening up the book and crunching numbers on short time ratings for a train on your territory to make the hill. In the cab, I would learn from my old head engineer instructors, then from ever increasing experience as the years went on. "If you are doing 30 MPH Eastbound at Spadra, you'll be about 15 up Cajon Pass."  "If you are doing 25 MPH by the University crossing near Ono, you can do the South Track at about 15." "If you get down to XX or less MPH here, you will stall." Etc. I think the SP got closer to short time ratings on their trains in the mountains. UP generally had enough power unless one unit died or some other situation. "Call for the helpers!" ATSF then BNSF didn't want UP slow dogs plugging up their Cajon Sub.
    Many times the DS would look at our numbers and ask if we would take helpers, either our own UP, or ATSF to move our train faster up the hill. Yeah lets do it DS, I'd rather motor at 25 than drag at 15. Get us up that hill and speed us to Yermo! Shorten our trip time, extra pay for the helpers, and a more fluid mountain pass, good all the way around. 

Date: 10/17/16 20:31
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: Lone Star


Thanks, 'spatch!

John Ford

Posted from iPhone

Date: 10/24/16 08:32
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: rww

As a former train dispatcher myself, this is nother example of why many of us who have been doing this for a LONG time consider Tom to be the ultimate train dispatcher. 

Rich Wessler

Date: 10/24/16 22:18
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: KskidinTx

Rich, I consider you and what you've done over the years to be in the same caliber with TAW.

Mark Cole
Temple, TX

Date: 10/26/16 08:11
Re: Dispatcher, I don’t think we can make it
Author: rww

That's high praise coming from another that I've admired and respected for a long tme.   Thank you very much, Mark!


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