Actually, that very discussion has been going on around the industry among the more thoughtful individuals. Reasonable people can make a case for what you say. The other side -- some would say equally as valid -- is the need to drive out the undesirable variation that seems to occur in operations in the areas of signal compliance (critical to safety -- wouldn't you say?) and fuel consumption (more important than ever these days).
Interesting. As a new-old head, someone who learned under the old ways of doing things...I would say that a lot of the "variables" have to do with employee hiring, selection for engineer training, and discipline standards, frequently waived for irrelevent criteria.
James Michener, a favorite author of mine, once had one of his protagonists proclaim: "The most expensive thing in the world, is cheap labor." It's demonstrably true; and more to the point, cutting corners on hiring, or hiring for docility and malleability, leads to these kinds of "variables."
Were I in a position to make constructive changes, they'd be simple ones: Recruit the best. Only train as engineers, those trainmen who both want it and qualify...NOT with a threat on their jobs.
I realize the ultimate aim is the all-purpose Train Crewman; and I don't necessarily oppose it. Having a co-engineer along, a conductor who's got his certification, is a great help on all-nighters.
But what I see, is that too many people are making it in who should be kept far away.
Oh...and, fuel savings? I love it....those new GEs that shut down thirty seconds before we're given the OK to pull out; that start and stop every 20 minutes in cold weather.
I'm a professional. I take my job seriously; and when I can notch back or shut down some of my consist, I do so. I can judge this a whole lot better, with less wear on the starter, than can an autostart program and a timer.
And if my railroad would hire a few more professionals and a few less yokels, it wouldn't be an issue.
Okay, rant's over...
LCJ wrote:Somehow we need to strike a balance with this. Example of such a system working very effectively is the airliner controls that can operate a plane from takeoff to landing with very little input from a human being. Are pilots "dumbed down" these days? Man, I hope not! But then again, pilots are treated a bit differently than engineers (uh-huh).
Selected a bit differently, too...degrees in aerospace engineering are often a requirement.
I'd put this up: The skills, the knowlege, that aren't used, tend to dissapate. I know this from having done Coal Drag Duty for extended periods; with underpowered trains, that are run Eighth Notch from start to finish, you tend to lose the edge, or at least I did. I'd get put on the odd rocket sled, and I'd be fumbling all over the place trying to keep the needle on the sweet spot, not above or below. Missing the fulcrum point on hillcrests. Stopping WAY short.
As I said, it doesn't matter. Progress will not be denied...blacksmiths had it hard, too, back in the 1920s.