05/20/2006 Operating Session
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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 operating session.

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 to me.

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!


May 20, 2006 Operating Session Photos

Jan runs the V615, loaded southbound coal, up the grade at Pearson Curve.


Todd is running the Q244, northbound empty autoracks, and has just knocked down the signal at the north end of New Castle as the pushers on the rear have been added to climb Rich Patch Mountain.


Dave is running the B264 pushers back down the grade at Rich Patch. Larry is on the B741 departing the south end of New Castle.


Todd has the power on Q244 in dynamics, bringing the train down grade around Pearson Curve. Rich has been given permission for the T478, a northbound hopper (empty) train, to depart SN Cabin at North Salem.


Jan has the V615 in dynamics coming down the grade from High Meadow towards Shenandoah Junction. This picture shows the new lighting installed on the lower level at Catawba.


Larry brings the B741 into the yard limits approaching SN Cabin. Jeff is running R423, a southbound freight, around Pearson Curve and into Ridgemont.


Jan is bringing V615 into New Castle, while Dave, the B264 pusher crew, looks on.


As mentioned above, both Amtrak P032 and NS Z233 stalled. P032 stalled in the "Corkscrew," and Z233 stalled just outside McAfee Tunnel at the south end of New Castle. The B264 pushers have already tied onto the head end of Z233 and will follow P032 up the hill.


Jan brought the power from G227 down the hill to tie onto the head end of P032. He and Marcus (crew of the P032) are now bringing the train up grade around the "Corkscrew."


P032 is on its way up hill. The power from G227 will cut off at Shenandoah Junction. Z233 is still waiting to go up hill behind P032.


Jan has finally made it to the end of his run on the G227 at SE Cabin in Salem, where he watches Q159, a southbound intermodal and one of the hottest trains on the railroad, pass his train.


Serving as Trainmaster for the second shift of the session, Larry brings Q159 into the staging yard at Wadesboro.


Marcus brings the R698, a northbound freight, into New Castle. Jeff, the crew on the B264 pusher in the second shift, watches to see if this train will make it into New Castle before he couples onto the rear end to shove it up to Laurel.


This page was last updated on 01/01/11.


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