Wednesday, September 24, 2014

War Stories: Episode 29 - "Sadder but Wiser"

In the musical, Music Man, there is a song, "Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me".   Howard Hill's interest is for the girl that has learned life's lessons the hard way.

Lessons learned the hard way tend to stick.

Conrail and Amtrak had learned a hard lesson on January 4, 1987.  (see here:

Things started changing right away.

Conrail reinstalled train stop on their cab signal system and replaced the annoying and easily tampered with whistle with a hard to defeat electronic beeper.  The risk of a penalty brake application causing a derailment seemed almost irrelevant compared to what had just occurred.

Conrail also looked  to CSX for some space to reroute some trains off the NEC between Washington and Philadelphia.

Amtrak immediately slapped a 30 mph speed limit on all Conrail freight trains.  Shortly after, they changed it to almost no Conrail train operation except between 11 pm and 5 am (or something like that), but that would be allowed 50 mph.

The Federal Railroad Adminsitration (FRA) and Congress started legislation and rulemaking that led to a requirement for speed control on all trains on the NEC.

Conrail pushed back on this one.  Using the old "suppression style" speed control was going to cause problems with the train sizes currently being operated.  Lots of dangerous slack action and potential for derailment.  Exactly what you DON'T want on the NEC!

Working with the FRA, Conrail developed a specification for a speed control system that would satisfy the FRA and safe train handling.  They called it Locomotive Speed Limiter (LSL).  It required the engineer to slow his train down so he'd approach the next signal at the right speed for that indication according to a generic braking curve programmed into the device.  It was the best attempt that could be made to turn the existing cab signal system into a predictive speed control system.

The specification was sent to both "old line" cab signal manufactures, Union Switch and Signal of Pittsburgh PA and General Railway Signal of Watertown NY. It was also sent to an upstart signal manufacture, Harmon Industries of Grain Valley, Missouri.  Conrail's Communication and Signal Dept. had a good relationship with this vendor and suggested we give them a shot.

Harmon's bid came in far below the other two.  Harmon it was - a bit to the chargin of some of the US&S "true believers" - PRR, PC and Conrail had used US&S exclusively for locomotive cab signaling longer than anyone could remember.

Things progress quickly. Six prototypes were constructed and installed on SD40-2s for testing by the end of October, 1987.  We were going to run them between Oak Island and Alexandria (Conrail trains OIPY and PYOI) which used the NEC from Philadelphia and Bowie MD.

Each test train operating with LSL had to have one Conrail and one Harmon rider.  We had a very early laptop computer that we connected to the device to log activity.   It was small and compact for it's day, but weighed a ton.  You had to boot it up with a floppy disc containing DOS in one drive and it would log data to the floppy in the other drive.  There was no hard drive in it.

 I drew the first southbound OIPY2 departing Oak Island the evening of November 2, 1987.  We gave the locomotive engineer a brief explanation of how the system worked, put the system in "no cab" mode, since there was no cab signalling until Philadelphia.  The train followed the old Lehigh Valley line to Bound Brook where we swung onto the ex-Reading and headed for Phila.  We wiggled through Philadelphia, up to Zoo where we climbed up onto the ex-PRR Highline - the freight bypass around 30th Street Station.  It was here that we first hit cab signal territory.

The device automatically changed to "cab" mode, as it was programmed to do and would now enforce speeds associated with the signal system.  We entered the NEC at Arsenal tower and proceeded south.  Each time the signal would change to a more restrictive aspect, the LSL device would dutifully start counting down the seconds until a penalty brake application would occur based on the current speed and position relative to the braking curve, just as it was programmed to do.

That same night, there was a northbound test train departing from Pot Yard in Alexandria.  We should have passed it near Philadelphia, but now we were south of Wilmington and there was no sign of it.  We arrived at Baltimore to work the yard there, and there was the northbound trying to get out of town.  It seems their LSL had been nothing but trouble, crashing and freezing up many times.

We finished our trip without a hitch, but that northbound was a sign of things to come.  We rested at a hotel in Alexandria and departed the next night on train PYEN for Enola PA.  Our LSL froze a couple times and needed to be reset.

That was the end of the beginning.  Harmon would take the data gathered and make a myriad of hardware and software changes - sometimes wholesale.  We'd ride the trains and gather more data - and return with even more failure modes.  By then, Conrail had diverted most traffic off the corridor.  Nearly all the rides were to/from Baltimore and Enola.

Some recollection of rides:

Early on, I caught a juice train from Pot Yard.  It was a solid 60 car train of refrigerator cars filled with frozen orange juice.  It ran as a unit train from Orlando, Florida to Newark NJ.  This day, it ran up the corridor during daylight, so was limited to 30 mph.  Nothing like going 30 mph on 125 mph track, bouncing off the low rail in curves with 6" superelevation!  The engineer told me he often could feel the juice sloshing around in the reefers.  I didn't have the heart to tell him it was frozen OJ and it was likely the end of car cushioning he was feeling. (It still runs:

While the train to Oak Island was still running up the NEC, we'd get off right on the High Line in Philadelphia and walk down the stairs to Market Street, where we could catch a transit ride to work or back home.  We were issued a switch key for this as the stairs had a locked gate.  I still have the key...

The usual drill from Baltimore to Enola was to take Amtrak to Baltimore, call for a jitney to the yard and ride to Enola.  The train would pull down to the yard limit and wait on the Amtrak curfew before toodling up the NEC to Perryville, then up the Port Road to the Enola Branch at Columbia, to Enola.  We usually arrived about dawn, got a jitney to Harrisburg train station and then went home to rest.

One night, we crossed over to the middle track of three going through Aberdeen, Maryland.  They ususally left us on the most eastern track up to Perryville.  As we're cruising through Aberdeen, a headlight from an Amtrak train appears around a curve to the north.  Minutes later, a second headlight appears around the same curve.  Nervous glances in the cab.  This was not what typically happened.  The first train closes the gap rapidly and is definitely on the track to the west of us, but the other one?  Could all three tracks be signalled for southbound operation?   Yes, and it became apparent a few seconds later -  blam - whoosh - whoosh - whoosh - whoosh - whoosh - whoosh - whoosh - zinggggg!

For the Enola to Baltimore trip, we would take Amtrak to Harrisburg in late afternoon and get to Enola about 5:00 PM.  The crew was usually on duty about that time and we'd depart at 7:00, cruise on down the Port Road and get to Perryville about 9:00 PM - only to sit until the curfew at 11:00 PM.  We'd get the signal, swing onto the bridge over the Susquehanna and be to Baltimore by 1:00 AM or so.  From there, we could catch a late night Amtrak train about 4:00 AM and be back in Phila by 6:00.  Then home, then bed.

One night, we had an older engineer who was really quite skilled and nice to ride with to boot.  The locomotive not only had the new cab signal beeper replacing the whistle, but had and alerter as well, which would also beep.  He started to nod off at one point during the trip, and a minute later, the alertor started sounding.  He woke up with a start  and was slapping the alerter reset and stomping on the cab signal pedal - each many times with great gusto until the beeping stopped.  I guess these things worked!

Another trip, I rode with an engineer who: 1) had just "bumped back" into freight service after a couple years with Amtrak and 2) had spent all day in divorce court.  That he hadn't run a freight train in a couple years meant he's never run with LSL.  That he was in divorce court all day, he struggled to stay alert.  This made it doubly tough to remember the railroad and how to handle a freight train over it.  At one point, we were pulling over a crest into the next swale when he slapped the throttle shut.  The his eyes got big!  He sat straight up and started notching back out rapidly, a notch at a time.  He was about to notch 6 when the slack ran in.  WHAM!  He later told me he used to just let the train run up to 60 mph or more through the swale and the coast back down to track speed.   No harm. No foul.  Not anymore...

The Port Road was intereting.  Right along the river.  Lots of curves. Tunnels, too.  The speed was 40 mph, but there were lots of 30 adn 35 mph curves.  Most engineer just ran a steady 30 mph and didn't bother trying to make time just to have to sit and wait at Perryville.   However, one engineer was a cut above the rest.  He ran the train right on the limit, speeding up and slowing down exactly in accordance with the timetable....and he did it effortlessly!

All along the way on these trips, I heard stories of what was where - or what used to be where along the line.  Most of these stories involved women who were visible from the tracks in various states of dress...

Finally, by the end of 1988 or early 1989, we were done testing and started installing production LSL units on a chunk of SD40-2s and B23-7s.  The B23-7s were for the Hudson Line, which had become included in covered territory after a Turboliner went nose first into a Conrail freight at Tarrytown.

Not good...
Harmon took what they had learned about cab signaling and developed their own system - Harmon Ultracab.   They took that plus their signal expertise and developed a turn-key transit train control system which they sold to St Louis's light rail line.  Later yet, they expanded the LSL system to become the ITCS system now used to govern the operation of 110 mph passenger trains in Michigan.  Conrails started buying Ultracabs with their first order of C40-8Ws.  They were less than half the price of the normal US&S system.  Today, Harmon/GE's Ultracab II is the standard system on NS.

Ultracab on Conrail's first C40-8W, CR 6050 during testing at Erie

This is quite a bit of good.

After the innocence ended, we were ultimately wiser.

There must be fifty ways to feed your diner

With apologies to Paul Simon...

"Don't give him a flapjack"

"Get a steak from the Outback"

"Or bring on a bag snack"

"But don't make it free."

"Put on a machine, Gene"

"And fill it with cuisine"

"No attendants that are mean"

"Chow down with the scene"

I just read this blog at Trains Magazine.

Eating in the diner on a train can be a great pleasure. ( )  But, Amtrak loses gobs of money providing it.  They are so bad at it, that Congressman Mica decided to have a hearing about it a while back.  It made good political theater, but it was one more log on the fire for those who would burn Amtrak to the ground.

Can anything be done about it?  Sure.  The problem is that Amtrak is still running their dining car service like it was 1950.  They stock food in a commisary, load it on the diner, cook the food on board, and have a wait staff take orders and serve it.  When the diner staff is not working, they are sleeping on the train.  It's been this way since trains first started crossing the great open spaces between the cities.  Back then, restaurants were few.  People cooked most meals for themselves.  The railroad dining cars needed a "closed loop", vertically integrated system to deliver meals to passengers. It's a very expensive way to do it.

Since 1950, a lot has changed.   Cooking meals at home has wane.  People eat out a lot.  Much if it at fast food joints, but quite a bit at chain restaurants.  The country has sprawled.  The interstate highway network is complete and every 30-60 miles, there's an "interstate" town by an exit complete with a variety of restaurants.  Prepared food used to be a rarity.  Now it is everywhere.

There is a whole industry to support and deliver prepared food.  Everything from large national and regional restaurant wholesale suppliers to restaurant "groups" that own several chains.  For example, did you know that Bloomin Brands owns Outback, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's, Flemings and Roys?  Darden owns Longhorn, Olive Garden, Season's 52 and Capital Grill, among others.

These people are experts at making money serving prepared food.  If they can do it, so can Amtrak.  There are several ways to go about it:

  1. Concessionaire:  Rent them the space and get out of the way. Menu, prices, etc. all up to them.  They keep the revenue and bear the costs.  This way the only cost to Amtrak is to provide the diner in the train.  They want to house the staff on the train?  Fine.  They can pay for the space.  They want to cycle the staff on and off the train around meal times?  Also fine.
  2. Contract provider:  Set the requirements for the service and bid it out. Write performance measures into the spec with bonuses good performance.  Might wind up with a negative winning bid, that is, Amtrak might have to provide a small subsidy. 
  3. Benchmark:  See what the industry leader business and logistics processes are and copy them. 
In all cases, things would change.  It might mean the food might be cooked at restaurants along the route and delivered to the train, ready to reheat.  It might mean that favorite, branded food would be available. It might mean that food is still cooked on board, but is served like "just another location" in a restaurant chain.   It might mean that staff rotate off to hotels instead of taking up valuable revenue sleeper space.

There are probably more ways to do to.  These are only the ones that have popped into my head.

All of these would be better than the status quo.   And, they might help Amtrak's image, to boot!

Paul Simon might even be able to think of a few more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

War Stories: Episode 28 - "The End of Innocence"

Trains were always fun.  Watching them go by as a kid, with my dad.  Model trains in the basement.  Train rides as part of vacations and trips.  This was all fun.

Then I got a job with the railroad.  It was serious work, but still fun.  I got to see trains, climb on them and ride them.

Then, January 4, 1987, it all changed. I wasn't even at work or  near a train.  I was home watching and NFL playoff game.

The game was interrupted for breaking news.  There had been a train collision at Chase Maryland.  People were dead.  The helicopter pictures showed a horrendous scene.  The northbound Colonial travelling over 100 mph had struck three stationary Conrail locomotives just north of Gunpow interlocking on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.  There were fourteen passengers and two Amtrak employees dead and scores injured.  It overwhelmed the local residents and EMS.  It would have been much worse had the lead coach been occupied.  It was completely crushed.

More detail here:

This was not fun.  This was depressing.

Details started coming out.  The Conrail engineer had been smoking marijuana.  The cab signal system on his locomotive had a muffled whistle and missing bulb - which he should have caught when he tested the system prior to departure.  He had blown by an approach signal, past a cab signal cut point and through a stop signal, trailing through the interlocking switches and into the path of the Amtrak train.

At work on Monday, the mood was somber, but the wheels of change had started to turn.  This couldn't be allowed to happen again.

Some background, first.

At the turn of the 20th Century, railroads were not a safe industry.  Death and injury to employees and passengers was not uncommon.  Technological improvements to safety were developed and implemented as time went by, often with some pushing from government in reaction to particularly gruesome train wrecks.  Steel passenger cars replaced wood ones after a particularly deadly, firey passenger train wreck, for example.

Advance signal systems became available and railroads slowly installed them.  Train stop systems that could apply the airbrakes if a train went past a stop signal appeared.  Later, more sophisticated systems that could show the current signal indication inside of the locomotive's cab were developed.  These systems were known "cab signals", generally. An added feature was called "train stop".  If train went by a more restrictive signal, a whistle would sound, and if the engineer didn't acknowledge it by pressing a pedal, the brakes would apply.

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) installed quite a bit of this inductive cab signalling with train stop on their railroad, including the entire railroad from New York City to Washington DC, the part we now call Amtrak's North East Corridor (NEC).   Later, they added an additional feature called "speed control" to it.  It not only required the engineer to acknowledge the signal change, it required him to apply the brake and stay under the speed for that particular signal indication.

Nice explanation and demonstration at 3:40.

The PRR eventually installed it on every passenger train and electric locomotive.  This meant that nearly every train on the NEC was covered with speed control in the 1960s.  This condition lasted until roughly 1980.

Then, three things happened.

One is that Conrail stopped using electric locomotives (more here

Second, trains got longer and a penalty brake application from the train stop system, under certain conditions, might cause a derailment.  So, Conrail took the train stop function from the cab signal system.

Third, speeds and number of trains on the NEC were increased.  First, Metroliners were allowed 110-120 mph.  Later, in the early 1980s, tracks were improved and new electric locomotives and coaches were acquired and speeds were raised up to 125 mph on long stretches for nearly all Amtrak passenger trains.  Amtrak increased the number of trains as ridership responded to the faster trip times.

Add in a rather laissez-faire attitude to drug and alcohol use at that time and you had a deadly mix. (More here

The result was, in the 1980s, Conrail diesel hauled trains were moving up and down the NEC without the benefit of train stop or speed control, mixing with an ever increasing number of faster passenger trains. During the dark years of the "railroad crisis" and Penn Central bankrupcy, the world had apparently forgotten what the PRR had known.

And a price was paid.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

War Stories - Episode 27: The Spring's the Thing - Fun with Business Cars


I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Stanley Crane:  "What's our track geometry car tell us about slow orders on the Pittsburgh Line?"

Others: "Uh, we don't have a geometry car."

Stanley Crane:  "What?  No track geometry car?  How do you know how the track reacts under load?"

Others:  "We don't"

Stanley Crane:  "Well, we should have one!  Go see what the Southern has and then get me one.  And make sure it weighs the same as a loaded 100 ton car."

Others:  "Yes, sir."

Okay.  Probably not exactly like that.  But, Stanley Crane wanted Conrail to have a track geometry car.

Responsibility for creating such a beast fell largely on the Equipment Engineering Department.  The MOW department handled the fancy track measuring system, but the converting the basic car structure fell on the department I was in.  There were still a few "old heads" from the NYC and PRR passenger days around who knew their stuff when it came to passenger car engineering.  I was one of the "new guys" who didn't know much but I learned a lot rubbing shoulders with the "old heads."  There was enough work to go around and they let me in on the project.

A design emerged.  Find a suitable heavyweight car with good, cast, equalized six axle trucks.  Ballast the centersill to get the car up to 263,000 pounds, fit out the interior, install track geometry equipment and, voila, a geometry car!

A candidate car was secured from ATSF, a spec written and a contract was let out to Amtrak Beach Grove to do the work.

One job that fell to me was to create a list of equipent and supplies needed for the on board crew to maintain the car.  This was primarily cleaning supplies, but included stuff needed to keep the undercar engine-generator set running.  Not very glamorous.  I'm not sure why the MOW crew taht would be manning the car didn't handle this, but, never-the-less, I poured over catalogs and came up with a long list of stuff to buy.  Everything from long-handled squeegees for window cleaning to, engine oil, to a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

Another job was on-board fire suppression.  The car needed a system for the under-car engine generator set as well as the living spaces.  I knew nothing about fire suppression systems, so I cast about the yellow pages looking for some local vendors and basically took the first one who I called who was interested.

Bad decision.

We got a functional system on the car, but a lot of the badges and labels supplied looked like the guy did them in his basement with a rattle-can of spray paint and some peel-and-stick lettering from the local ACE hardware.  Live and learn...or live and suffer?  The fire suppression guy turned out to be a chain smoker.  I don't think he took a single breath ever that wasn't though a lit cigarrette.  Does that make it odd or fitting that he was in the fire suppression business?

The best job was helping my boss out with spring design for the car.  Once we had a good solid estimate of the car's weight, we had to design a set of springs to fit the truck spring pockets that would function.  The trucks were designed for a 70 ton passenger car and had accordingly-sized spring pockets.  The trucks themselves could handle the new, 130 ton weight.  They were of a good cast steel design and survived the stress analysis cut.

We created a simple spreadsheet program to handle the spring design using well-known spring design criteria.  We soon realized we had a problem.  Even using the best steel and manufacturing processes and the most nested coils we could fit, we either had to have very stiff springs or very short travel.  We messed around with all possible combinations of wire size and turns, finally settling on the softest set we could create with barely adequate travel.

Along the way, I got a nice trip to Amtrak's Beech Grove Shops to see the car under construction.  A neat old backshop.  Amtrak had a good amount of their own work going on, plus they were assembling the latest order of transit cars for WMATA.  Tucked away in the corner, was CR21 under construction.  Amtrak was doing first-rate work on the car. It was clear we had chosen a competent vendor.

Finally, the car was done.

The MOW department started using the car.

The MOW department started complaining.

"The car rides rough!" they said.  Uh, oh. Arrange for a quick ride quality test.

I'm not sure if the test lab helped on on this one or not, but a quick ride from Altoona to Conway showed the car rode stiffly.  The ride was perfectly safe, just a bit stiff.  More like a sports car than a Cadillac. The good news was the springs didn't bottom out or run out of lateral suspension anywhere - even when we went around a 50 mph curve at 70 mph!  Oops.  That's what happens when freight engineers pilot passenger trains...  A glace at the track chart - curve was 50 freight, 60 passenger.  The engineer "forgot".

They ran the car a few more months and the complaints kept up.  This time, we got the lab involved.  They did some interesting static testing where they jacked up the car on some explosive blocks -

Wait, what?  Explosive blocks!  Yep.  The lab got to play with lots of cool things.

- and then let the car free-fall a couple inches, measuring the suspension response.

They didn't find anything surprising.  They measured a vertical natural frequency of roughly 1 Hz.  A typical passenger car has a suspension natural frequency of 0.5 Hz.  That exactly matched our theoretical calculations - it's really just a mass on a spring - square root of  k/M, right?

Checked with Southern about their car.  Turns out it was overweight - nearly 300,000#.  They had traded nearly all spring travel for softness.  They said they replaced the springs quite often.  The car must have spent quite a bit of time with the secondaries bottoming out and the primaries taking up the slack.  We didn't care for that approach even a little.

We went back to the drawing board and traded off some suspension travel for softness.  A new set of springs was ordered and installed.  There was no way we could get all the way to 0.5Hz, but we did nudge it down a bit closer.  The car went back out.  A year later, more complaints.

This time I borrow Amtrak's accelerometer and meet the car in Selkirk.  I ride to Buffalo.  You'd think we'd be able get there as fast as an Amtrak train.  Slightly lower maximum speed, but no stops.

Good theory.

Just wrong!

The gang that ran the geometry car had some interesting marching orders from day one:  "Do not miss one inch your assigned route!"  The crew took that as gospel and almost immediately got themselves in hot water with the operating folk on every division.

The gauge measuring arms on the car were cranky.  For reasons unknown, they had a tendancy to hop up on top of the rail every now and then.  Sometimes, the crew could coerce them back down.  Sometimes they'd  have to losen some bolts and retighten them.  Sometimes, they had to remove them completely and install the spares on board.  They never knew what it would take until they got into it.  One thing they NEVER did was drag the car into the clear somewhere and work on it there and perhaps skip a dozen miles or so on this pass.  They HAD to cover every inch - and they had to do their repairs RIGHT THERE.  There was no negotiation.  I believe there were some personality issues and pride at stake.  I kept my mouth shut - always.  (See, I can learn!)

One particular time, legend has it, they got hung up on the busy single track portion of the River Line and took hours to make their repairs.  This did not endear them with the dispatcher who wanted to use his railroad to run some trains.  There were other rumors from other divisions of geometry car transgressions.  Needless to say, train dispatchers got very gun-shy with the car.  They'd only give it the railroad when the absolutely had to and when traffic in the area was light.  Consequently, the car never made the miles each day it was supposed to, despite long days worked by the crew.

This was both good and bad for me.  Bad because I didn't get all that many miles to test despite having a relatively long day of work.  But, good, because the dispatcher would hold us on controlled sidings all over the place and run traffic by, around and through us.  It gave me a good excuse to go out and "check the trucks", taking my camera with me.  I would take some pictures of the trucks and suspension, feel the roller bearings for heat, and then just hang around outside and "railfan" until it was time to go.

Ready to depart Selkirk
In the hole (again!)

Amtrak from the east and...

Amtrak from the west while we sit and wait.
The second set of springs were better, but there could not be a "best" set.  You just can't stuff 130 tons of springing in a 70 ton spring pocket!  The CR21 crew finally decided to drop their maximum speed from 70 to 60 mph.  Part of it was ride quality and part of it was the whole issue of trying to keep their gauge measuring arms from derailing.  They were loathe to do it, though, since they thought it would reduce their daily mileage.  Gee, maybe if they didn't stop dead on main tracks every time they needed to make a repair...

Even more fun:

The track geometry car was just the first.  Stanley Crane began beefing up the business car fleet in earnest.  Next was a "theater car", CR9.  This time, Conrail took on the work themselves.  The Reading shops had been doing a lot of caboose work, but they had experience with passenger equipment from the pre-Conrail days when they maintained trains for SEPTA.  It turns out, they could do first-rate work.  Each car they transformed came out beautifully.

This time, designing the springs was no problem.  The trucks had been modified by a rather brilliant mechanical engineer in our office to include some viscous vertical damping over the secondary springs since the original friction system had to be abandoned when rebuilding the trucks.  

The car was nearly complete when we took it on a shake-down trip.  I borrowed the accelerometer package from Amtrak - a Metroliner round trip to DC for me!     

The car was switched out of the shop at Reading and weighed.  Very close to estimates.  The trip included the dining car staff.  They wanted to try out the kitchen, particularly the open grill that was installed.  I set up the accelerometer as close to the bolster center of the theater end as possible - which meant I had to hold down a theater seat for the whole trip!  Everyone piled on and off we went to Philadelphia, 30th Street Station.  

Backing out of 30th Street Staion

Theater seating with Amtrak's accelerometer on the floor
 On the return trip, the chef starting cooking steak and eggs.  He had enough to feed everyone and the staff was happy to serve everyone in the dining area of the car with full linen tablecloths and everything!  This was really shaping up to be one tough day of work!


Smoke.   Coming from the kitchen.  Smelled like steak!  Yum.  Too much smoke.  Getting thicker.  The grill worked fine, but the ventilation fan was too small.  Train stops in West Falls.  Everyone off!  

Now, what.  We take some time and inspect the trucks.  Everything is working perfectly.  They get the car cleared of smoke and we pile back on.  Looks like no steak and eggs for us, though.  But, no!  The chef pan fries the steaks and we get fed a wonderful meal!  Back to Reading.  Everyone piles off and I head home.  
Lunch!  Dining car crew seated at end of table.
Passing a freight on the way back to Reading
The suspension was a bit bouncy so they tweaked the damping a bit (bigger shocks), and CR9 was good to go.  It remains in service in CSX's business car fleet to this day.

Conrail went on to amass a fairly large stable of business cars.  Except for CR8 (, nearly all were rebuilt in-kind, so didn't require any particular spring work or ride tests.

Rats.  But it was fun while it lasted!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Live blog: Amtrak trip to Philadelphia

I'm headed to Philadelphia on business.  Decided the company could spring for a roomette.  Will try some live blogging. The train us here about half hour late. All aboard!

But first the arriving passengers must climb up three flights of stairs. 

Roomette two.  In middle of car.  Nice.  Sleepers on rear tonight.  Should be good sleeping.  Car attendant,  Arthur,  has been by.  Seems first rate guy! 

9:15 pm. After a couple of stretches of 79 mph, we held the main at Buford GA while multilevel train P11 slid by on the siding.  Very short delay for us.  Intermodal train 222 is chasing us up from  Atlanta. 

Took delay approaching Gainesville. Don't know why.  Went to lounge for beer and chips.  Service was okay.  Attendant used ceiling vent for bottle opener.  Weird. 

First gripe.  Lounge car has dedicated office space for conductor,  but he had commandeered whole table in lounge.  It wasn't crowded,  but still... 

Looks like we will be out of Gainesville about 45 min behind. 

Went to bed about Greenville SC.  Woke up in Charlottesville.  Breakfast to Culpepper.  French toast and bacon.  Good,  not great but service was very good.  Sat with a guy heading to Baltimore for architecture convention.  His first train ride in 50 years.  Grew up in Springfield MO.  Dad worked for the Frisco. 

Biggest mistake so far was not sleeping in upper berth.  Could have left seats up and luggage on floor. Instead,  has suitcase on toilet cover. That was... . Uh.. . Inconvenient. 

Interior of AMTK 26035

8:15 am.  Currently running 4 min late heading for Manassas. 


Wifi Hotspot on phone to laptop to citrix to remote desktop to work PC in Atlanta.  Amazing.... 

Union Station Washington DC 

Leaving DC 

My rolling hotel 

Oil cans just north of Perryville MD.  Empty petroleum tank cars headed west for more.  Daylight freight on NEC.  Good deal!  

Wilmington.  Next stop is mine. 

Off to NYP
Some final thoughts:  

The trip was fun.  The staff on the train was very good.  The diner served okay food with good service, but there was hardly anyone there at 8:00 AM and they were beating the bushes for lunch customers.  The Viewliners were getting a bit raggedly.  Some peeling paint.  Curtains that didn't work quiet well.  Blankets that were frayed.  But, everything that needed to work, worked.  I probably got the best night's sleep ever on a train.

Norfolk Southern's track in GA and SC was not the best, but in NC and VA it was very smooth.  The train spent a lot of time accelerating up to 79 mph only to brake for many, many curves.  The superelevation has been pulled out of a lot of them.  We went around many over (under?) balanced.  Track in the NEC was not great.  Viewliner spent a lot of time doing choppy, rhythmic bouncing at 110 mph, like there were long wave corrugations in the rail or something.

One last note.  Overheard two women from coach talking about a guy that had a small puppy with him.  When my son rode a month ago, there was a guy with a puppy in his backpack. Same guy?  


Some other observations:

The baggage car - was nearly empty.  You could see into it from the rear door of my sleeper.  There was the Congressionally mandated gun safe bolted to the wall in the middle of the car.  In the back of the car were some suitcases - no more than a couple dozen.  The bulk of that 85' car was completely empty.  This would have been a perfect train for a baggage-dorm car - or better yet, a combine.  So, why did Amtrak change their order of baggage dorms to straight baggage cars?  

The two sleepers - were not sold out.  There were a handful of roomettes not occupied. The dining car crew came through the train announcing lunch.  The were going to stop serving in Wilmington, I suppose so they could get their inventory done prior to arriving in NYP.  They did get a few takers.  So, why not actively sell the unused sleeper space on board?  

Silly Trains

I was reading the Fred Frailey blog over at Trains Magazine ( and it brought to mind a lot of silliness I've heard over the years about passenger trains and rail transit.  Here are some.

1. "Nobody will ride it."

This is my favorite.

It is usually heard in places that have no trains and is followed by "People here love their cars and won't ever ride a train."  I wonder if they believe they think they have evolved different DNA from people other places who happen to ride trains?

I wonder if, just before the road building era, if anyone complained about road construction.  "Drive from Chicago to Denver?  Why would anyone do that?  You can get there overnight on the train."

Then there is the tautological aspect of the argument.  Nobody rides because there's nothing to ride.  Everyone is getting where they are going right now, so why should anyone do anything new?

2. "If they could connect (where I am) to (some other place) by HSR, it would be great."

When I was a kid, I used to think about how great it would be if there was a subway line from my street to my school.  How cool would that be!  Problem was, I lived in a lightly settled suburb.

The mayor of Atlanta wants HSR to Savannah, Georgia.  How cool would that be!  Savannah is a nice place to visit, but it really doesn't need a dedicated HSR line.

The mayor of Columbus, Georgia a HSR line from there to Atlanta.  How cool would that be!   Columbus isn't even as good a desination as Savannah.

Then there are the continuous and ongoing studies (pushed by some influential politician) for either a HSR or Maglev line from Atlanta to Chattanooga.  How cool would that be!  Chatanooga is a fine place - kind of a mini-Savannah.  But, a HSR line?  Really?

3. "Transit is useless to me. It doesn't go where I want to go."

Pssst.  Are there people using transit who, for at least part of their trip, would be on the same road as you?  Would you like them clogging up "your" road?

That's the easy retort.  The harder one is explaining how when you build around roads, you optimize car trips.  It's a fools errand to try to build transit to replace automobile trips.  You build transit to allow growth beyond automobile oriented development.

If you want to get really puzzling looks, ask someone how they think all those folk who live and work in Manhattan got around before they built the subways?

4. "Criminals ride transit."

They will ride out to your neighborhood on the bus, get off, break into your house, take your TV, head back to the bus stop, and catch the next bus back to Transitville.  Sure.  This one is usually a thinly veiled reference to "those people" - whoever they may be.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch....

...cities have build and expanded transit.  Sometimes. in places with where none had existed.  Surprise!  People do actually ride it!  The greatest car-loving, freeway oriented place in the world, Los Angeles, is the best example.   They are slowly transforming LA with a combination of heavy rail transit, light rail and commuter rail.  On top of that, intercity passenger rail has been expanded to the north and south.  Other cities starting from scratch are Dallas, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Portland, Seattle, and Phoenix to name a few.

...and I've yet to see a guy with ski mask carrying a stolen TV on MARTA!