Monday, August 11, 2014

War Stories - Episode 24: No flying! No problem!

In the 1970s, Conrail was all about rehabbing.  The run-down eastern railroads that made up Conrail got a good going-over.  Locomotives rebuilt.  Freight cars overhauled.  Track upgraded.

In the 1980s, Conrail was all about economic survival.  The stock was sold in an IPO and now the heat was on to show a decent profit each year.  This led to some interesting behavior.  Sometimes, we'd get into the beginning of the fourth quarter and there'd be an all-out push to save every nickel possible to make the end-of-year numbers.  Sometimes, a bad beginning to the year would elicit the same response.  It usually meant you could count on a few things.  One, all of the IT contractors got send home. Two, program locomotive and car work would get put on hold or scaled back.  Three, travel budgets were slashed.

Slashed travel budgets usually were manifested as a "no fly"mandate.  If you needed to fly anywhere, you needed your department head's approval - and he often said "no".

There was a loophole.  They didn't say you couldn't take the train.  No flying?  No problem!

I would often try to work Amtrak trains into business travel where it made sense.  I had been known to take the Lake Shore Limited overnight to Erie, the Broadway to and from Chicago,  the Broadway, National and Pennsylvanian to and from Altoona - in fact I was in the Altoona station waiting for the Pennsylvanian when I heard the news of the space shuttle Challenger exploding, Empire Service trains to Selkirk and, of course, NEC trains to all points on the NEC.

Others in my office would use Amtrak along the NEC fairly regularly, but I was the only one "crazy" enough to try it elsewhere.  Now I had the "authority" to be crazy and use Amtrak even when it made less sense!

Some trips I made included:

Montreal:  A winter ATCS meeting in Montreal allowed an all day trip up on the Adirondack, including nice views of frozen-over Lake Champlain.

London Ontario:  Visiting EMD to check on new locomotive construction.  Maple Leaf out of Penn Station.  Change at Aldershot ON to VIA and on to London.  A marathon day trip.  Leaving home at 4:30 AM and arriving London after 9:00 PM.  Slowing down from 100+ mph to 79 mph at CP-169 just west of Schenectady felt like we were crawling after flying but lots of great scenery along the Mohawk River made up for it.    The tight connection at Aldershot worked out just fine despite some interesting delays at the Canadian border.  I made this trip at least twice. Once the train was delayed on the bridge at Niagara Falls as customs agents inspected the train with dogs and hauled a couple 20-somethings off the train.  Another time, we got delayed at the drawbridge over the Welland ship canal.   On one return trip, the London to Aldershot train was an LRC.  Neat!

 And, the "big trip" - a round trip to Tampa to take a look at CSX's road slugs made from GP30s and mated to GP40-2s for Bone Valley service as well as their ATCS pilot installations.  Overnight in a roomette both ways.  Silver Star down, Meteor back. Spent one whole day in Tampa.

With abundant cell service and tethering, it would be no big deal to use a coach seat or roomette as a "mobile office" these days.  Then, I had no mobile phone, expensive laptop computers were just appearing on the scene and the internet was a ways off.  Still, to be fair, I did what work I could on the train often reading and revising specifications and catching up on other professional reading.

On the Tampa trip, I took the office laptop and completed reformatting mainframe text locomotive specification documents into a PC format.  It was lots of tedious work.  In the early days of PC's it wasn't always so easy to make global changes to documents.   I spent a good bit of time with the laptop and VHF scanner or Walkman going as we rolled along between Florida and Philadelphia.  I could get used to this!

I don't travel much in my current position, but I do have a trip to Philadephia coming up in a month.  I've booked a roomette on the Crescent.  (even though it's a couple hundred bucks more then flying - don't tell my boss!)  I'm bringing my cell phone and laptop.  

I'll let you know how that 21st century mobile office thing works out.  But, if it's even half decent...

No flying?  No problem!

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