• Ringside Seat

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by 2nd trick op
Those of us who enjoy watching or "overseeing" the daily ebb and flow of rail operation have both gained and lost ground in recent years. I miss having a nearby tower where I could (assuming I knew the op and a visit from a trainmaster wasn't anticipated) get a close look at both what was going on and what happened recently, but scanners and ATCS monitoring have compensated for most of the loss.

But late last night, I got a rare first-hand look at something that happened "out there".

I commute to work on a weekly basis, keeping and sharing a house I own "upstate", but living during the week in a community of about 4000, in a buiding just across the street from NS' "Reading Line" -- the former East Penn between Harrisburg and North Jersey via Allentown.

I had just gotten back into town and was parking my "wheels" when a westbound unit train of solid waste whistled for the two downtown crossings. The summit of the divide between the Lehigh and Schuylkill valleys lies just to the west, so when I heard a fairly loud noise, the first thing to come to my mind was "slack action".

But no more than a second later, i noticed two of the cars, one a converted TTX flat, the other a sem-articulated (some intermediate single trucks), separating. "OK", I thought, "Maybe some rookie engineer is going to get an unpleasant lesson on the fine points of the job."

The brakes went into "emergency", of course, and while it was too dark to see the smoke from the shoes, you could smell it easily enough. I'm a former motor fleet dispatcher, so I called Berks County 911 and advised them not to rout an ambulance through Topton if the need arose. As it turned out, the "break" ended up very close to my building and one of the crossings, but not enough to leave it open and the gates, of course, stayed down.

Almost half an hour was to pass before the conductor made his way back from the head end. As it turned out, there were no broken knuckles, nor severed air lines, and once he finished reconnecting things, on the second try, the gentleman informed me that they had been having trouble keeping that coupler closed since leaving their origin.

I've been old enogh to report the occasional hot journal or sticking brakes for nearly fifty years, but this is the first time i've been witness to someting as rare as a break-in-two. My operator friends, like airline crew members, simply lived with the knowlwedge that a derailment, while unlikely, could knock down their post, possibly killing them in the process.

Still one of the most fascinating businesses in the world -- and why I'll try to live closer to the action whenever it's possible.
  by Gadfly
Having a break-in-two was more common than you might think---at least when I was a clerk-agent. Even such things as bad trackage can cause it. I used to work at an outlying station off the Extra board. The track along in front of that station had a kind of a "hump" in it. When we went out to watch trains by as required by the rules, you could see cars bobbing and ducking as they crossed that spot. Often as not, PSSSSSSHAW!!!!! Down would come the air and SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE as the train came to an unwanted and unscheduled stop. (NS) After a few incidents of this, the railroad got tired of it real quick, and the "hump" was taken out of the track! None of us, of course, were amused at break-in-twos, and it often happened right in front of me so I could tell the conductor over the radio exactly where the break was.

  by Desertdweller
I've certainly broken my share of coupler knuckles over the years. But the worst case I ever saw was at Linden, AL. I was working on the Meridian and Bigbee.

I had been called to recrew an eastbound freight. The train had 150 cars, all power was on the head end. The train was stopped and tied down on undulating track, with the head-end portion facing upgrade. The train was stopped at an interlocking, where our main line crossed that of another shortline, the Alabama Great Southern.

We had a two-man crew, just myself and my conductor. My conductor didn't ride the train. He followed along in a pickup truck.

The power was running. I noticed the train was in emergency. Not too unusual to find one that way. But the brake system would not reset. My conductor started back to find what was wrong.

He soon found a break-apart, with a broken knuckle. He replaced the knuckle. I got air back up on the head end and made a joint. When he made air, it went into emergency again and would not reset. So he kept on heading back. Soon, he found another break apart and another broken knuckle. Replaced the knuckle, but had the same result: the trainline would not reset.

This procedure kept on, until he had found a total of five break-aparts and five broken knuckles!

There had been so many broken knuckles on that stretch of track, someone had "seeded" the right-of-way with new replacement knuckles for the mile and a half my train occupied. My conductor just had to pick them up and put them in! Of course, we then needed a Class One Air Test. We normally put in 12-hour days, but we didn't cover much ground that day.

Lucky for me. I didn't have that many on the power. Someone was being really thoughtful!

Fortunately, the M&B was one railroad that I never "got a knuckle" on. I never did find out who had torn that train up so badly. But it was very soon after that, we were told to limit our trains to 100 cars.