Through Train Operations Return to the Shenandoah Division!
After a four-year long operations hiatus and a three-year long capital
improvement plan, CSXT through train operations returned to the Shenandoah
Division on March 19, 2005. CSXT Shenandoah Division management recalled train
crews and dispatchers from furlough in order to staff the anticipated traffic
during operations start-up.
There were ten members of the crew present at this inaugural operating
session in addition to Shenandoah Division management. While there were some
definite challenges encountered at this session, the overall return to
operations was deemed successful by those present. And, upon further reflection,
division management has decided the first operating session was a success as
well, in spite of some operational issues which cropped up during the session.
The session started at 1:00 p.m. with a briefing for the operating crew.
Since the last session had been held in April 2001, a refresher of CSXT
Shenandoah Division operating procedures was necessary prior to the commencement
of operations. A new Employee Timetable was issued and important items were
discussed with the crew. After this initial portion of the pre-session briefing,
the crew reconvened in the layout room for a guided tour of the layout with
station locations and Direct Traffic Control (DTC) block boundaries discussed.
With some last-minute instructions for the dispatchers, the fast clock (3:1
ratio) was started at around 2:00 p.m. (real-time) to begin the session. The
first train to run on the railroad was the P991, a CSXT Executive Inspection
train from Chicago to Jacksonville via the Shenandoah Division. With priority
handling necessary to comply with the superintendent's bulletins, this train
also made a myriad of inspection stops along the route which caused congestion
for other trains on the railroad.
After P991's run, the railroad started to get more fluid, at least until Q420
had a mechanical failure on Rich Patch Mountain which resulted in 36 (of 37)
cars running away down the mountain. Once the wrecker crew cleaned up this
calamity, some semblance of normal operations began to settle in on the
About halfway through the four-hour operating session, the crew took a break to
socialize, as had been our custom on the previous layout. Since this break was
the first for the new railroad, management and the crew toasted the beginning of
operations and then enjoyed some delicious freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.
After the break, the crew returned to finish the operating session. There
were some more glitches with the railroad, which is to be expected with bringing
a layout this large on-line for the first time. Traffic flowed better after the
break as some of the backup caused by the P991 was relieved. When Amtrak train
P050, the eastbound Cardinal from Chicago to Washington, terminated its
run at Roanoke, we stopped the session after about 4 actual hours at 6:30 p.m.
and then the crew headed to dinner together.
There had been 21 trains scheduled to be run during this session, but only 13
actually made it out of staging and onto the railroad. Three of the trains tied
down on the railroad at the end of the session when P050 terminated. According
to the dispatcher's train sheet, P991 took about 4 fast hours to get over the
division. The fastest freight operated was Q420, which took about 6 fast hours
to traverse the route; and the slowest train was local B741, the Black Cat,
which took about 12 fast hours for its run. In fact, B741 went through four
different crews during the course of its run!
Challenges of Mountain Railroading
Mountain railroading with long trains proved to be a challenge at the first
operating session, especially since management neglected to pay attention to
some of the established rules. In addition, the Shenandoah Division
superintendent also apparently forgot about some of the discussions about
operating procedures with various crew members in the weeks leading up to the
There were some important lessons learned, and there have been several
proposed solutions presented as well. One of the lessons is to place light cars
at the rear of a train rather than immediately behind the locomotives. If this
rule is violated, then the likely result is to stringline the head end of the
train while traversing the Corkscrew towards the summit of Rich Patch
Mountain. There is an instruction in the CSXT Shenandoah Division Employee
Timetable #2 about just this situation, and there are many examples of this
instruction in prototype timetables as well. Division officials resolve to
follow this rule much more closely when staging trains for future operating
Another important lesson was that long heavy trains with light cars on the head
end may actually break away from the locomotives and run away down the mountain.
As a result of this particular issue, management has agreed with various crew
members to try the use of pushers on all trains over 25 cars long to avoid
There were also some continued issues with trains heading down Rich Patch
Mountain derailing because of coupler slack action and truck mounted couplers.
The prevailing theory here is still that long trains with cars having free rolling
metal wheelsets causes the slack to bunch. Once the slack has run in, the force of the
train is then transferred to twist the truck mounted couplers to the side. As a result, cars
might derail on long trains. The crew has decided to try to follow prototype
practice from several Eastern U.S. locations and use "pusher" locomotives on the
rear end to provide "dynamic braking" to help keep the train under control going
downhill. Experiments will be conducted to determine the viability of this
A final issue discovered during this session was just how long it takes
trains to make it over the road, especially if the train happened to be
longer than the shorter (28-30 cars long) passing sidings at New Castle, Va.
and Laurel, Va. For the next operating session, all train lengths will be
restricted so each train will fit at New Castle and Laurel in order to
increase fluidity on the railroad, which the dispatchers and train crews
alike will appreciate. As the crew becomes more proficient in moving traffic
across the Shenandoah Division, this restriction will be lifted for at least
the merchandise trains.
Future Operating Sessions
Future operating sessions have already been planned, as have improvements to
equipment, the layout, and operating procedures. Operations on the CSXT
Shenandoah Division will continue to get better as these improvements are
implemented and as the crews become more proficient, but I'm quite pleased with
the fact that the railroad is operating once again!
All photos in this operating session report are courtesy of R.S. Richardson,
who graciously served as the CSXT Shenandoah Division "company photographer" to
document the first operating session.