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Railroaders' Nostalgia > terrain differences

Date: 12/21/16 05:14
terrain differences
Author: dpudave

I have what is very likely a simple minded question, but it's been gnawing at me, so I'm going to try the patience of the veterans on this site by asking it: Do engineers have a preference re mountainous versus flat terrain? I know just having a job comes first, but after that... I apologize for an idle question, but riding the trains it, seems to me the challenges are significantly different. Right, wrong?. Thanks. d

Date: 12/21/16 07:33
Re: terrain differences
Author: 3rdswitch

TO ME mountain terrain doesn't necessarily mean tough and flat terrain doesn't necessarliy mean easy. In MY case when I first became a promoted engineer on Santa Fe in Los Angeles the Third District Los Angeles to San Bernardino was MOSTLY single track with sidings and the First District San Bernardino to Barstow was all TWO TRACK CTC but run mostly as double track which means MOST train left Barstow westbound on the south track and stayed on the same track all the way to San Bernardino so all you did was run your train and MOST trains once you left Summit and headed on down Cajon Pass the brake set you made was kept the same all the way down. Now the Third District was the challenge as even though considered flat had lots of curves with signals to enter slow siding often around them. The key in knowing your terrain and knowing where each signal is IMHO. Today of course it is all two and three track CTC and as then every train was different because of so many different power combinations and train car type makeups, MOST of todays trains handle the same every day as most have the same kind of cars as well as matched power, once again IMHO.

Date: 12/21/16 09:31
Re: terrain differences
Author: SanJoaquinEngr

I agree with 3rd Switch.  I as promoted engineer on the SP.  My seniority district included several diverse operating conditions,  Included the following :  The Coast route from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo , Los Angeles to Bakersfield  and an occasional trip from Bakersfield to West Colton via the Palmdale Cutoff.  Two of the routes required grinding up the mountainous grades.  The weather varied from extreme heat to snow, torrential rains, tule and coastal fog and also nice weather.  Most eastbound trains required the need to cut in helpers at either at Bakersfield, Magunden, or Bena.  The helper normally were cutout at Summit .  The Coast Route was also challenging in its own right.  The speeds were faster and the track profile was undulating and the only flat track was between Oxnard and Camarillo,  The track profile basically between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo there isn't one area of level track.  The Coast Route is much more scenic. Both runs required different skill sets.  A footnote to what Charlie said it was always important to pay attention to the radio and listen to what was going on ahead of your train,  The telltale communications if a train encountered a red flag, burning fusee, a red signal in a remote area, a stalled train, train vs, a vehicle, or the weed weasels out testing.  On Tehachapi crews were blessed with a great DS that would call the train and ask "How is your power running?".... which was the clue that the weasels were out testing.   When running on mountainous territory the engineer had to pay attention and know the territory,  Sometimes you had to reduce the throttle to maintain speed and not encounter wheel slip which could cause a break in two. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/21/16 10:31 by SanJoaquinEngr.

Date: 12/21/16 09:34
Re: terrain differences
Author: ble692

In my opinion, and others will vary for sure, mountains are fun to recreate in, but crappy to work in. They may look scenic from a car or a passenger train, and fun to go up to and ski in or let the kids make a snowman, but when you are on some sh*t lifter freight train staring at the same tree for 10 minutes as you grind by it at 7 mph, the novely of the scenic mountains wears off fast. One also has to remember, that pay for train crews is primarly based on miles worked, so faster track = more likely a longer run and therefore a better pay day. What can I say, I'm flat lander and proud of it.

Date: 12/21/16 10:15
Re: terrain differences
Author: cewherry

As Joe, Jim and I'm sure others will agree, each piece of railroad presents unique sets of operating challenges. In my career I know that while descending heavy grade
​territory you must pay constant attention to how the train is handling and make frequent, even if minor, adjustments to your dynamic braking. In short, you have to
​be constantly aware of what's going on around you as well as paying attention to situations possibly many miles away by monitoring radio traffic. To not do so
​invites problems ahead. So, if you are one who enjoys 'tinkering' with your train mountainous territory might be your preference. If, on the other hand, these machinations
​prove onerous flat-land running might be your choice. In reality most freight runs that I worked had some combination of both so neither one became boring.

When I was a RFE on the former Frisco territory of the BN I was constantly amazed at the ability of those engineers to make the best of a bad situation, train handling-wise.
​That railroad was built to get from point A to point B in the most direct manner, over hill and dale, never around​. They couldn't got bored.


Date: 12/21/16 10:44
Re: terrain differences
Author: spnudge

On the Coast,  between SLO & Santa Barb, there were 62 increases and decreases of speed in 119 miles.  You had to remember where your train was all the time. A lot of guys had a problem heading in at Capitan going east. There were a lot of knuckles scattered around over the years. An old head showed me how to deal with it the easy way. When you came to a stop you kicked off the engine brakes. You waited for any slack. Then you also released the train brakes and you waited a bit, while the head man was walking up to line you in. Sure enough the train would let you know where the slack was.  After everything settled down, "then" you would stretch them out and head in.  If you hurried the process it could be knuckel or drawbar time. Not just Capitan but most of the sidings. Depending which way you were headed you had to watch it at Goleta, Ellwood, Naples, Capitan as mentioned, Sacate, Concepcion, Honda, Tangair, Narlon and Devon.  

Some know- it- all hogheads didn't listen to the old heads. Those guys spent a lot of time putting their trains back together and stabbing other trains in a meet. 

There were a lot of sidings where YOU THOUGHT you knew where the slack was, stretch braking and all. Not so on the Coast between SLO & Santa Barbara.  



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/21/16 17:31 by spnudge.

Date: 12/21/16 18:41
Re: terrain differences
Author: joeygooganelli

Out of Cincinnati, we have some hilly terrain and some flat railroading. Both can be fun. Having the option to move back and forth kept me from getting too bored. The former L&N LCL shortline that runs from Cincinnati to Louisville can be a heckuva challenge. There were two spots that we used to have fun going from 8 dynamic to 8 throttle in a single swipe to try and run away from the slack. Things changed with erad. Running towards Indy on the former B&O is similar for the first 50 miles. Going north on the B&O Toledo sub is old style single track railroading where once you get up north, you can boogey!


Date: 12/22/16 09:47
Re: terrain differences
Author: Beowawe

No question, mountain running made me a better engineer.  But as an old road foreman said to me, "why beat yourself up when you don' t have to.  I'll keep my flat land job.

Date: 12/23/16 02:24
Re: terrain differences
Author: dpudave

Thanks, all, most instructive and interesting. d

Date: 12/23/16 13:48
Re: terrain differences
Author: sp3204

As ble692 said straight out of the ol' mans mouth. I have been beaten up by a few different mountain ranges, but I will take the flat and the miles...usually equals more time off!

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