Highlights of the May 20, 2006 Operating Session
The CSXT Shenandoah Division came to life once again on May 20, 2006.
There were eight members (including me) of the operating crew present. Prior to
this session, CSX signal maintainers had been
hard at work installing the
necessary signals and switch motors
to extend Traffic Control System (TCS) territory on the Covington
Subdivision from the south end of Ridgemont all the way north to Alleghany Junction
(MC Cabin to Shenandoah Junction had been completed previously). This session
marked the first time operating the entire Covington Subdivision (the majority
of the layout) under TCS control!
The session started at 1:00 p.m. as usual with a briefing for the operating
crew. After emphasizing some changes in operating procedures, we started the
session at about 1:30 p.m. We took our normal mid-session break of about 30 minutes for some snacks and social time
around 3:30 p.m., and then we resumed operating around 4:00 p.m. before
ending the session at 6:15 p.m. and heading for supper together. One thing we
did differently this time was to have only the crews for the initial two trains
and the pusher, along with the Trainmaster, in the layout room at the start of
the session. The other crews remained downstairs in the "crew lounge" while we
got the session going. I thought trying this change helped to eliminate some of
the chaos at the beginning of the session.
This session ran our normal "AM" sequence (0700 to 1900), with the addition of
a P991 executive inspection trip. Accordingly,
there were a total of 19 trains on the lineup sheet for this session. We were able to
get all 19 of the trains out on the road, and 17 of those completed their run! The
newly extended installation of TCS definitely helped reduce radio traffic
a tremendous amount by eliminating the need to authorize and release DTC blocks.
Most of the radio transmissions during the session were related to Rich Patch
Mountain pusher movements, and train movements through the Salem Terminal which
remains under Yard Limits.
We operate each session in two shifts with a break in between. Each shift is six
hours on the 3:1 fast clock. The first shift of this session was the best shift
we've had to date on the railroad. Throughput was up with the use of TCS over
the entire Covington Subdivision. We had up to 5 trains out on the mainline
simultaneously in addition to the pusher movements. We normally run 1-2 fast
hours behind the estimated departure times on the lineup sheets, but during the
first shift of this session, we actually were holding trains for their departure
time (or even allowing some trains to depart early when crews were available).
The first shift of this session was as close to my vision of an operating layout
as we've ever achieved. I was really pleased with the difference that TCS makes
in the operation of the railroad.
While the first shift went so well, the second shift had a few problems, which
were entirely the fault of management. The rest of the crew handled the
situations quite well, but I was disappointed I had made two mistakes which
caused the railroad to be tied up during this shift. Both issues were the result
of underpowered trains stalling on grades.
The third F40PH on northbound Amtrak train P032 was balky even though the
mechanical department had signed off on repairs. This unit ended up being set
out at Abbott. With 2 remaining F40PHs and 12 cars, P032 proceeded up Rich Patch
Mountain only to stall in the "Corkscrew" just north of the intermediate signals
at Rich Patch, Va. Southbound grain train G227 was in the siding at Laurel
waiting to meet P032, so the SD Dispatcher had G227 cut off their power to help
P032 up the mountain.
At the same time P032 was struggling up the hill, I was running the NS Z233
northbound intermodal train. With a short (but apparently not so light) train
and only 2 six-axle units, the train stalled at the south end of New Castle.
According to the employee timetable instructions, Z233 was short enough not to
need a push up Rich Patch Mountain. As a result, the B264 pusher was tied up in
the Apple Track at New Castle. The SD Dispatcher sent B264 to tie on to the head
end of Z233 to assist the train up Rich Patch Mountain.
Both of these scenarios were realistic, and completely spontaneous, as I
certainly thought each train had enough power to make it up the grade. These two
incidents occurred almost simultaneously, so the middle of the railroad was tied
up while working these trains up the mountain. Had these events not happened, I
feel certain we would have completely run all 19 trains on the lineup sheet. In
retrospect, I'm still pretty pleased with the session and the fact that TCS
allowed us to run so much traffic even with these two incidents.
Implementing a suggestion from a couple of crew members, the Trainmaster used a
separate radio frequency to communicate with the Dispatcher. As a result, the
communications necessary to move trains to and from the staging yards did not
interfere with any radio traffic on the main road channel. I was very pleased
with this suggestion, and using a separate frequency for the Trainmaster to
Dispatcher communications will be standard procedure for future sessions.
I served as Trainmaster for the first shift of the session to experiment
firsthand with the new communications procedures between the Trainmaster and
Dispatcher. A big thanks to Larry for volunteering to serve as Trainmaster for
the second shift, during which I was able to run three trains during the
session: P991 (southbound executive inspection trip), the ill-fated Z233
(northbound NS intermodal), and Q159 (southbound CSXT intermodal). Thanks also
go to Marcus and Todd for doing an excellent job as dispatchers. Jan,
Dave, Jeff and Rich rounded out the crew at this session. I appreciate the
participation of the entire crew in helping me achieve my vision for each
The operating crew really liked operating the entire Covington Subdivision under
TCS along with the concomitant reduction in radio traffic. The dispatchers
commented, "you now have time to think....about how you're going to mess things
up." :-) Having TCS definitely makes the railroad feel more like the Clinchfield
Overall, I thought this was one of our better sessions, even with the issues on
Rich Patch Mountain. With TCS finished on the Covington Subdivision, I've got
some other projects to do before installing TCS in the Salem Terminal. In the
meantime, I'm looking forward to
bringing the railroad to life once again at our next operating session!