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Baltimore & Ohio

Track pans on the Philadelphia Division

Somewhere north of Washington D.C., Baltimore & Ohio passenger trains keep up time by taking water on the fly at these track pans. The time lost in slowing and accelerating, not to mention the several minutes actually taking water, can all be saved by this method. Not surprisingly, it is popular with several roads, notably those involved in the New York to Chicago race.

However, this method is not without its drawbacks. For one, scooping at speed is hazardous: several early attempts resulted in burst tender shells: the New York Central, in particular, eventually fitted it's tenders with rows of air vents to prevent this.

There is also the tricky timing of lowering and raising the air powered tender scoop. If the fireman is off by even a few seconds, the scoop can be ripped off, leaving the locomotive unable to take water as planned for the rest of the journey, not to mention the very real risk of derailing the consist.

Another problem is that scooping generally does not provide a full tender load. Even though track pans like these can be over a mile long, a lot of water is thrown off to the sides. As such, locomotives depending on scooping must do so frequently. This limits the usefulness of track pans, as long stretches of level track where pans can be placed cannot always be found where needed.

Finally, holding capacity of track pans is small and the recharge rate is fairly slow. A single scooping can draw off most of the standing water which must then be refilled (one virtue of this is that it prevents freezing in the winter). This can create a real bottleneck if high speed traffic becomes too frequent.

Nonetheless, track pans have their uses and they are fairly widespread on the principal high speed lines in the northeast. In this scene, we see the storage tower and pumphouse at left and two conventional water columns for supplying slower freight trains. The track pans themselves are made of formed sheet steel troughs about 18" to 24" wide. These are riveted together then bolted to the tops of the ties.

The usual practice for panning water is to reduce speed to about 40 mph. The fireman drops the pan at just the right moment then keeps a sharp eye out the window for the end-of-pan trackside marker while the engineer gives a sharp tug to the throttle to counter the sudden drag of the pan. Panning completed, the scoop is raised, the throttle opened and the train climbs back to speed.


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