Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I saw it.  I really did.

I was working from home on a nice sunny Thursday about a month ago.  In the morning's email, there were several about a big mainline derailment on the Piedmont Division between Gainesville and the South Carolina boarder at Toccoa.  It looked like it was going to take more than a day to clean up.  It talked about holding certain trains and detouring others.

I wondered, "What are they going to do with the Crescent?"  The Crescent is Atlanta's only passenger train.  It runs every day from New York City to New Orleans, passing southbound through Atlanta each morning about 8:00 AM.  Usually, when this sort of thing happens, Amtrak calls out some buses to get people where they are going and then they cancel the return train the following day.  As I read on, it appeared they were going to detour the Amtrak train around the derailment. How? Via CSX's Abbeville subdivision, in part, which runs a mile from my house.  This was pretty exciting news!

Okay, for ME it was exciting... Ever hear of the Silver Comet?  Sure, the same as the "Silver Comet Trail".  This was a train that operated from the Northeast through Atlanta and on to Birmingham on the Seaboard Airline Railroad. The Atlanta to Birmingham portion of the railroad was converted to a bike trail over the past decade.  The Silver Comet was a fancy, streamlined train that operated from the late 1940s until the dawn of Amtrak in 1971.  It ran over the Abbeville subdivision, and as far as I know, was the last public passenger train to run on this route.

Picture of Silver Comet at Athens

Silver Comet in Atlanta


So, reading on and doing a bit of digging, it looked like the southbound Crescent was going to wind up in Atlanta 4 to 5 hours late, roughly noon, so maybe by our area between 10 and 11 AM.  It was 9:30 AM.  Hmmm.

I fired up my ATCS monitor.  What is that?  Its some computer software that shows where the trains are and how the switches and signals are set on lines where the communication signals are sent using a standard, open source messaging scheme adopted by the railroads a couple of decades ago.  It is the only surviving piece of some development work into computer based train control undertaken in the 1980s.  The project was known as the Advanced Train Control System (ATCS).

The ATCS monitor uses radio data.  In this case, a fellow feed his radio scanner data for our area onto the internet to share.  Other people have modeled the "track line view" - similar to what a train dispatcher sees - for areas in the country that use ATCS radio messaging.

The ATCS monitor showed me the traffic between Atlanta and South Carolina.  A meet was set up for Gloster siding.  A train from Atlanta was lined up for the siding and the only southbound train for miles was lined up for the main track.  Had to be...  I gotta go see this!  Grabbed the camera and took off for the Arnold road crossing  near the house.

Got to the crossing and all was quiet.  I fire up my "log-me-in igntion" remote desktop application on my phone so I could see the ATCS display on my computer back at the house.  The train from Atlanta was between Tucker and Gloster.  It would be here shortly.  The train I thought could be the Crescent was still on the other side of Lawrenceville. Good. It will be here soon, too. The CSX freight train from Atlanta crawled into the siding.  I got a picture of it arriving and was all set to get a nice picture of the two trains meeting.

The "Not-the-Crescent"

But, wait?  The ATCS monitor shows the main track is occupied!  Did the Crescent slip in just before I got there and is it now hiding right around the curve?  I didn't think so, but, there it was plain as day on my ATCS monitor!  Uh, oh.  Jump in the car.  I'll zip over to the Gloster Road crossing and catch it there.  I zoom out toward Lawrenceville Highway.  Bad move.  Much traffic.  Long light.  What a dope.  The other way was shorter, anyway.  Head back to the Arnold road crossing to go around the other way.  Lights are flashing. Gates are coming down.  I'm still 500 yards away!  Darn.  Sure enough, it's the Crescent! All two locomotives, baggage car, two sleepers, diner, lounge and four coaches of it.  It glides by at a pretty slow speed.  Rats.  No picture.

Aha!  Maybe it will stop behind whatever is on the main track at Gloster Road.  If I hurry....

Turn around again.  Wait through the longest light ever.  Zip down Lawrenceville Highway, then down Huff wind up in a long line of traffic at the I watch the markers of the Crescent recede into the distance.  Drat!  Foiled again!  Oh, well.  I head home...back to work!  As I go over the tracks, I see a signal maintainer's truck. He was obviously doing some testing that made it look like the track was occupied, when it wasn't.  Of all the luck. I had outsmarted myself.

Oh, well.  I saw it.  I really did.  And, that's not nothin'!

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