Thursday, March 13, 2014

War Stories - Episode 16: "Welcome to the (Metro)club!"

This is a war story about an actual war!

When Conrail was created from the wreck of the Penn Central et. al., Amtrak inherited the former PRR "Northeast Corridor" from New York City to Washington DC and the branch to Harrisburg since they were the predominant user of the line.  This was probably a good thing.  Conrail had enough trouble to keep them busy without having to figure out how to host another hundred or so passenger trains a day.

But, it didn't come without trouble.  Conrail still had the right to run trains there and had to negotiate with Amtrak over a whole host of issues.  The relationship didn't start out well but it got worse over time.  One of the first sticking points was over usage of electric traction power.

When PRR, and then PC, strung up the catenary, they didn't much care which particular train or MU car used how much power.  They just built the equipment with efficiency in mind and then payed for the generation needed to cover the total consumption.  They knew how much they were generating, but not where it went, specifically.  It really didn't matter to them.

Amtrak and Conrail negotiated a split to the electric bill, but after a few years, it was clear to Conrail that the method for splitting the bill was way off.  Both sides agreed to take a fresh look.

It was tricky because the power went all sorts of places. It was being used by commuter trains in Philadelphia and New Jersey, freight trains on Amtrak-owned track and some Conrail owned tracks, such as the Port Road or Enola Branch/Low Grade Line, Amtrak locomotive hauled trains, Amtrak Metroliner MUs and borrowed commuter MUs.  It also went to handle building light and heat in certain places as well as being converted for signal system power.

The looking included putting some power meters on locomotives and MU cars to see exactly how much power they were drawing.  Conrail's Equipment Engineering department ordered a few power meters and got them installed.  I believe one went on an E44, another on a SEPTA MU car, one on an E60 and aonther on a Metroliner.  They'd be moved to other equipment once enough data was collected in order to get good coverage.  That was the easy part.

There was quite a variety equipment and train types using juice from the wires....

E44s going through Princeton Junction.


GG1 at South Amboy


Soon-to-be NJT Arrows closing in on Princeton Junction
Soon-to-be SEPTA Silverliners at Radnor PA
Amtrak GG1 in Metroliner Service, Claymont DE

Metroliner passing Amfleet train at Princeton Jct NJ

Amtrak leased Silverliners from SEPTA for Harrisburg Line Service, Lancaster PA

The hard part was collecting the data.  That chore fell to Conrail since they were the ones complaining.  So, Conrail had to supply man power.  That typically consisted of stalking the equipment and when it was close to Phila, jumping on and reading the meter, often riding to the end of the trip and reading it again.

I found this all rather fascinating so I stuck my nose into it, and offered up a way to figure out approximately how many more runs were needed to get to specific confidence interval given the current small sample of data - sort of a backwards "t test."  The reward was I got the occasional quick slot in the data collection.

The memorable trip was the time I got the call to catch the early afternoon Metroliner to New York that was expected in Philadelphia shortly.  Just by luck, the power meter had been installed in a Metroclub car.  The Metroclub cars had actual parlor car seating in them - probably the last equipment built this way in the world.

I had ridden in Metroclub once before in my life.  It was on July 20, 1969 on a family trip to NYC for the day.  (Bonus points if you know what ELSE happened that day....)  I was thirteen years old and that whole trip remains cemented in my mind to this day.

So, I head down to the platform at the appropriate time with my clipboard and pencil.  The train arrives.  I hop on and find the power meter about mid-way in the Metroclub car on the left hand side.  It's not crowded so I take the seat under the meter.  I read the meter and write down the value.  The conductor comes along looking for tickets.  I explain.  He's good with it.  He also volunteers to get me a "dead head" ride back to Philadelphia since this equipment isn't turning until the next morning.   The train gets to New York. I write down my number.  Hard day's work!  It was the second and last time I ever ride in a revenue parlor car seat.

The conductor directs me across the platform to a long clocker that's just getting ready to depart.  I find the crew and settle in for the ride in the head end back to 30th Street. I get the center seat in the cab.
E60 near Grundy tower, Bristol PA
The E60s were just getting their ride quality issues sorted out after derailing at 120 mph back in 1974 and this train is allowed 90 mph between the stops as it makes it's way to Phila.  The ride is actually pretty decent....until we hit an interlocking while motoring at 90 mph.  The entire cab lurches sideways.  The seat armrest plants itself in my ribs.  Then, the locomotive cab lurches the other way and the opposite arm rest repeats the process on the other side of my rib cage.  This goes on for a couple cycles and finally damps out.   The engineer just rolls with it, looking much like a "Weebil".  You know, "Weebils wobble but they don't fall down!" Gadzooks!  Now I know why the cab seats have arm rests!  "How'd you like that?" asks the engineer with a big grin on his face.

That was my last ride for the project.  The "plug got pulled" - literally.  Conrail was relieved of commute operations, so the MU fleet operation fell to the state agencies to fight it out with Amtrak.  After studying electrification between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and deciding against, Conrail decided to retire all the electric freight locomotives and run diesels under the wire...the secondary effects of this decision would come back and haunt them year later.

Conrail GG1s with no more work to do
But, that's another story for another day.

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