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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)

Date: 11/27/16 18:55
Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: TAW

Back in the early 80s, the new, non-railroader, management was making big changes quickly. They came with the attitude of rescuing a failed industry. You are the failed industry, so shut up and do what we say. The transition wasn't easy in train dispatching offices. History said that the train dispatcher and Chief ran the railroad for the Superintendent. Tradition said that the train dispatcher and Chief ran the railroad for the Superintendent. The job description said that the train dispatcher and Chief ran the railroad for the Superintendent. The responsibilities said that, and the accompanying authority said that.

The new management didn't like that one bit. First, train dispatchers weren't management. Second, they only understood single-location facilities. In manufacturing, that would be factories. In retail, that would be stores. On a railroad, that would be yards. They couldn't understand why they would need an entity to manage the activities of the facilities, didn't know how it was done and didn't want to hear it (in my experience). The Mantra was the trainmaster is in charge, not you. There were two problems with that. First, the responsibility didn't change but they wanted to take the authority away. Second, the railroad was getting to be screwed up like a soup sandwich and it was hard for those of us who knew how to run a railroad to sit back and watch.

It was something like 1982. The BN Seattle dispatchers were in King Street Station, along with the newly arrived Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver dispatchers. Management was making a point of showing us how much they disliked us (e.g., 6 positions in one room that had brick walls, concrete ceiling, some sort of laminate-covered particle board tiles...and no heat, month after month with no days off, chiefs not only having no days off, but working 12, 16, and 24 hour shifts). There were constant arguments over things happening that we had responsibility for that were being done in spite of us or without telling us. A lot of it was expensive, but management didn't understand. They thought that convenience and expedience meant making money.

I wrote three pages in Managing Railroad Transportation about holiday shutdowns. Done correctly, it can be quite painless, unless you think that planning or following instructions is painful. The process necessarily assumes that all elements of the railroad are components of a single system. New management didn't see various facilities as components of a single system but rather autonomous facilities that had their own goals and determined their own destiny. There is actually another way to do it. In the 70s, IC conducted holiday shutdowns like turning off the power on a model railroad. Everything stopped simultaneously at a prescribed time, then restarted 24 hours later. Crews were given a ride home from wherever they stopped and were then transported back to that same location and train. It worked pretty well, at least for the type of railroad and traffic that IC had at the time.

I was night Spokane Division Chief on this thanksgiving. In the days before, a couple of us had put together a detailed shut down and start up plan for Thanksgiving. We started from a very general directive about the holiday shutdown. We put the details to it and published in the week before Thanksgiving. The shutdown plan was not really simple because the conditions were not simple. Whitefish-Spokane was a double end pool. Whitefish and Spokane were both home terminals, a situation left over from the pre-run through crew change at Troy. The agreement required trains out of both terminals to alternate Whitefish and Spokane crews so that both terminals got the same mileage. There were a limited number of tracks available at Whitefish, Hauser, and Spokane. We wanted to avoid the expense of driving crews to and from points all over northern Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Some trains had to run regardless of the holiday (1,2 3 and 4, the UPS/mail, 80, 82, 97, and 197, the freight forwarders, and Amtrak 7 and 8, still using BN crews) We included the Montana Division Chief and the Pasco Trainmaster in the planning so that there were no unintended consequences anywhere. We made a deal with UTU and BLE to run back to back Whitefish and Spokane crews as necessary to get everyone home, then back to back the next day until it was equalized. The plan, in detail as to what trains to run when and with what crew, was published to Havre, Whitefish, Spokane, and Pasco.

Thanksgiving morning came with not much to do except monitor, anticipate, and prevent problems - at least in theory. All was well until about 2am. Whitefish gave the dispatcher four calls on westward trains. The plan didn't call for them to be run. The last Spokane crew had left Whitefish, on the way home for Thanksgiving. All of the east trains on the road had Whitefish crews, on the way home for Thanksgiving. Not long after that, Whitefish called two more west - two more with Whitefish crews. I called the operator at Whitefish. The operator said that the trainmaster called and instructed them to run the trains that were in the yard already and everything else that showed up. He wasn't going to allow trains to be held on his railroad. The operator pointed out the instructions and the trainmaster replied that the instructions came from the region (when they combined offices, they put us under the Region General Superintendent of Transportation instead of the Division Superintendent). He worked for the Spokane Division and he was not going to allow the region to affect his (performance) numbers. Since the barn was already on fire, there was no point in calling the GST in the middle of the night when all of us already memorized what he would say: you need to do what the trainmaster tells you to do. There was nothing to do but watch it collapse.

During third trick, Whitefish called 24 trains west. They used all of the Whitefish crews, including all of the crews that were already rested from their out of turn eastward trips to be home for Thanksgiving. Not only was the pool intentionally out of balance because of the holiday plan, it was double out of balance because Whitefish called the entire pool out of turn again. In Spokane, the BN contract rooms in the hotel were all taken and the Whitefish crews kept coming. Since there was little ability to fix the situation by running trains through Spokane toward Pasco or Wenatchee, we had to start anchoring them in sidings east of Spokane and sending taxis (before the days of the shuttle companies) to fetch the crews. By the time it was time to start up on Thursday, all of the crews were in Spokane and we owed the Spokane crews two trips for every train. Fixing it took days. There was a lot of deadheading, some on Amtrak but several by taxi trips (a 500 mile round trip each). The trains tied down east of Spokane required extra board crews we didn't anticipate using. We burned the Spokane extra board and still had trains to run. The UTU and BLE folks got really upset. (I can't imagine).

As a result, there was indeed some reaction from our boss, the GST. It had come to his attention that we failed to provide a sufficient number of rested Spokane crews at Whitefish. The Whitefish Trainmaster, the Spokane Division Superintendent, and the BLE and UTU general chairmen were really upset with our failure to do our assigned work and if such a failure happened again, there would be consequences.

Oh, by the way, the boss was an addressee of the holiday shutdown directive from St. Paul (or was it Overland Park then?) and our detailed shutdown and startup plan. We weren't really surprised.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/28/16 15:50 by TAW.

Date: 11/28/16 12:43
Re: Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: Englewood

The money from hauling train load after train load of grain and coal covers up many sins.
Wait until General Chain from SAC takes over.  He will put discipline into the operation.
Hiring scores of "safety professionals" off the street will make the railroad safe.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/28/16 12:46 by Englewood.

Date: 11/28/16 13:37
Re: Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: mopacrr

When I went to work for the Mopac in 72, there was no such thing as a holiday shutdown. Thanksgiving and Christmass was just  another day in the year.  Some people layed off or tried to,but most guys stayed marked up knowing they would be in either part of the day, or a Thanksgiving or Christmas type dinner could had at the other end of the line.  That started to change in the 80's when a lot restaurants started closing on holidays and the  only thing left open were the "quick trip" type places.  From the 1980's on there was a race to the off board on holidays resulting  no extra boards and the remaining crews having to either step up or turns     being  dropped.  Trains then had to parked in siding or yards until the holiday was over and its been that way ever since.  Over the Thanksgiving Holiday in 1996 the UP decided to see if crews would stay marked up if they offered some kind of holiday bonus in the amount of $500.  Crews only had to be marked up and available to get the bonus.  The result, the UP had more than enough crews to operate what ever they wanted to operate,however the UP deemed the idea too successful and it was never tried again.

Date: 11/28/16 14:16
Re: Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: dbinterlock

Yep, it is incredible, all that cooperation and effort to put a good plan together and some goober management type not with the program messes it up 'cause his metrics gotta look good for the bonus check. Happens all the time.
    That UP 1996 Thanksgiving I do remember. I think Thanksgiving was on Sunday. Anyway, out here in Los Angeles it was $300. There were a few restrictions, something like you had to be marked up okay for duty starting Noon on Friday. Work or be rested for work, cannot take undisturbed rest, and not lay off until Noon Monday to qualify for the $300. I got my bucks, I was single at the time and was going to be off for Christmas, so I worked. There were no manpower issues at all. We all were happy, those wanting or needing to be off for Thanksgiving were, and those of us that didn't pocketed extra dough. What a novel approach, the "Carrot vs. the Stick." Everyone was all ready for Christmas, would they do it again, maybe for New Years too? Nope, no carrot for Christmas or New Years. Too successful, I'll bet some manager got chewed out over the success of that program. "What are you trying to do, set a precedent, those throttle jockeys and ballast crunchers will EXPECT it now, We don't do that here, etc."     

Date: 11/28/16 15:50
Re: Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: TAW

mopacrr Wrote:
> When I went to work for the Mopac in 72, there was
> no such thing as a holiday shutdown. Thanksgiving
> and Christmass was just  another day in the year.

Same when I worked in Chicago. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, most local industries were shut down along with the associated industry jobs, but Chicago was buried in day before traffic from a day to the west and a day to the east. The day after the holiday was a bit lighter because there was no originating traffic yet and we were in the holiday shadow of the east coast and western midwest, but the day before holiday traffic from the west coast was showing up. The next day was a little light in the shadow of the holiday on the west coast, two days before, but after that, it was business as usual.


Date: 11/28/16 19:09
Re: Thanksgiving shutdown (that didn't happen)
Author: rob_l

On most railroads, dispatachers were union. On a few (notably the UP before mergers), they were management. That was a huge advantage. The Chief Dispatcher was a management position that outranked all trainmasters, and trainmasters had no authority to override any holiday plans issued under his signature. Or any non-holiday plans for that matter.

I was out of the UP before MoP-UP, but obviously things deteriorated after the mergers.

Best regards,

Rob L.

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