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Hot Times on the High Iron

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Hot Times on the High Iron
Used with permission
See Hot Times Archive for more articles.

Track Gang:  May 03 & June 03 by JD Santucci

Rail Types & Info Jointed Rail Continous Welded Rail
Thermite welding Rail Grinding Galion Crane
Tie Plugger Cribber Galion threader
Flash Butt Welding Spiker/Gauger Rail Heater
  Spike Drivers  


Fuel Conservation:   August 02 by JD Santucci

Zero Throttle Braking Reduced throttle braking
Dynamic Brakes Throttle Modulation

One of the great misnomers of railroading is the one that commonly refers to the rail as iron. Once upon a time rail was made from iron. Before that it some of it was made from wood with strips of iron laid upon the top of it. Today though, rail is made out of steel. It has been rolled from steel for over one hundred years now. Nonetheless, the rail will probably continue to be called iron long after I'm dead and gone. Main line rail is frequently referred to as the high iron as it is generally heavier rail that stands a little taller or higher as it were, than rail used in the yard or on industry track. An improperly lined switch is routinely referred to as a bad iron. The iron term is also carried over to the very name of this little column as you have likely noted. Think about it though, doesn't the term "high iron" sound better and flow smoother than "high steel?" Even though Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band did a song called "Twin Ribbons of Steel", I still think high iron just sounds better.

From the advent of the steel rail used to replace that which was formerly rolled from iron, there has been continuous and extensive research done to improve the quality of the component steel used in the rail making process. The metallurgy of the steel used to make the rail is has been studied, researched and improved significantly over the years. Today's premium rail is far superior to that which was produced just twenty-five years ago. It comes delivered with a harder head for longer and better wear. It's not just steel anymore.

Rail comes in different weights determined by the yard. For example, 119 lb rail indicates this size of rail weighs 119 lbs per three foot section or yard. The higher the weight number, the heavier the rail. And the heavier the rail, the higher or taller it stands; hence that popular railroad slang term, high iron. Also, the heavier the rail, the better it wears and longer it lasts. The kinking in the rail that can develop under intense summer heat is also reduced. This is not to say that it won't kink because it does. But it tends not to happen as commonly or as bad, especially if the roadbed and track structure including rail anchors that help keep the rail from running is well maintained.

Friend and former railroad Roadmaster Mark Lynn forwarded the following information on rail expansion.

"The coefficient of thermal expansion for steel is 0.00000645in/in/deg. Doesn't sound like much but when you run out the numbers it comes to .405504 ft/mile/deg. Still doesn't sound like much, only about 5". Then multiply by 40 degrees and you get a piece of rail that has grown by 16.22 feet in that one mile. It's not at all unusual for the rail temp to go from say, 40 deg to 80 deg on a spring or fall day. Remember that on a sunny day, the rail temp can be significantly higher than the air temp as well.

It has to go somewhere. In the old days, that growth was taken up by joints in the rails and sun kinks (oops, thermal misalignment is the correct expression these days) were pretty uncommon. Today, with a well-maintained railroad not having any joints perhaps for several miles, where does it go?

As an engineer, you've probably noticed that the track seems to get just a little squigglier in the summertime. Some of that growth is being taken up in the tie plates, since they are not a precise fit with the base of the rail. That's typically what you're seeing there. At the bottom of hills and sags, the rail tends to get bunched up as trains coming down the hill push rail ahead of them and trains climbing tend to push it downhill as well as they fight for traction. If the ballast section is not sufficient or if there has been track work recently and the ballast is not fully compacted, that's a likely spot for the rail to head for the ditch. This may happen suddenly in front of a train, under a train, or in extreme cases, by itself. It will also want to pop out of the high side of a curve if the ballast section is thin."

Mark is correct in the comment about the rail appearing a little more "squigglier" in the summer. In fact, it often looks like cooked spaghetti or a thin stream of water rippling in the breeze. The ride is also noticeably rougher as well. Many railroads apply speed restrictions of some nature on extremely hot days. CNIC has special instructions in place that requires freight train speeds to be reduced from 60 to 50 MPH when the temperature is 90 or higher and on subdivisions where the normal timetable speed is lower, maximum speed must reduced by 10 MPH but not lower than 30 MPH. Amtrak must reduce from 79 MPH to 65 MPH.

For years rail was rolled into thirty-nine foot lengths. This length is a direct contributor to harmonic rock (rock and roll as it is often called) that requires Engineers to minimize operating in between the speeds of 13 and 19 MPH on jointed rail. Today, a greater percentage of the rail that is manufactured is rolled in lengths of seventy-eight feet. When manufactured, rail is hot rolled from ingots. It is not cast in forms with molten steel. If you look at the side of rail, you will see numbers and letters on the web. These numbers include the weight of the rail and the year it was rolled. Some rail includes the name of the steel company that produced it as well.

Rail that is a few years old is actually better rail than when it is brand new. As locomotives and rail cars travel over the rail head, the steel in it actually hardens. A common term in the industry describes it as "wear hardened rail." However, over a period of many years, the head can get too hard and such problems can develop as corrugation. This creates and rough and uneven surface on the ball. From years of tonnage rolling across it the ball will also flatten out and become misshapen. Other problems can crop up with rail as it ages such as internal cracks.

Jointed Rail

Jointed rail is rail that is joined together by the use of nuts, bolts and angle bars (the bars you see in between the joints on the sides of rail). It tends to be more maintenance intensive. Those joints need far more attention and maintenance to keep them riding smooth and to help keep the rail from warping. The nuts and bolts can work loose causing play between each rail in the joint. This can cause the ends to get slammed by the wheels passing over them thus battering the ends of the rail at the joint. Welding the rail eliminates these joints. We will get into more about welding rail in just a bit.

Jointed rail is also prone to pulling apart. Rail expands and contracts with hot and cold weather. As the joints begin to wear one of many factors may occur, the bolts within the joint begin to deteriorate from the motion of the rail and start to crack and eventually break and fall out. If one comes out it needs to be addressed but is not an immediate danger. There are usually four to six nut and bolt sets holding each joint together. Nuts may work loose and back off the bolts. This may create the potential for the bolts to come out of a joint. With less nut and bolt sets to hold everything in place, the remaining sets take on greater stress. Factor in the motion within the joint and you can see problems will develop. When one of these occurrences takes place, it can create the likelihood of the joint pulling apart. These are referred to as pull-aparts and stripped joints.

The nuts can work loose and back off or unscrew themselves from the bolts with the vibration of trains passing over them. They need to be checked and tightened periodically. If they come completely unscrewed, this can cause the bolt to work itself out of the hole in the rail and angle bar and fall out leaving the joint less secure. Again, one bolt missing won't cause a derailment, but needs to be addressed. One less nut and bolt set creates more stress on the remaining sets.

Both welded and jointed rail also take abuse from flat spots on wheels. A three inch flat spot on a wheel rolling at 50 MPH is equivalent to several hundred thousand pounds of pressure hammering the rail. This hammering can cause internal failures in the rail which lead to breaks.

Another enemy to rail is spinning wheels. Locomotive wheels that are spinning on the rail can and will burn the rail head. I am acquainted with several Engineers who have spun the wheels so bad they burned completely through the ball of the rail and into the web. The web is the staff portion of the rail that connects the ball to the base of the rail giving it the "I" appearance when looking at the rail from the end. When rail is burned this badly, it is ruined and has to be replaced. Trains cannot operate over such burns. Small burns while hard on rail are not detrimental. Bigger burns may cause a speed restriction to be placed on that portion of rail but it can remain in service until this burned portion can be cut out and replaced.

Good draining, well ballasted and well maintained roadbed are keys to maintaining long rail life. If the roadbed is in good shape, the rail will last longer. If the roadbed under the rail is allowed to deteriorate, mud may begin to pump up through the ballast and weaken the structure. The ballast can no longer help hold the rail and ties in place as it is being fouled and then forced out by the mud which then begins to act as the ballast. The mud cannot support the track structure adequately and trains traveling over such a section can force the entire structure downward from the weight. While very flexible, this action may cause premature wear on the rail. The rail itself may begin to weaken as it is getting insufficient support from underneath.

Over time, creosoted wooden ties begin to weaken and deteriorate. There is a micro-organism that attacks treated ties helping to promote failure. As ties deteriorate, they loose their ability to hold the rail in proper gauge. One or two ties in a segment are no problem. But numerous failing ties can be a serious problem. Ties that rest in mud or are subject to very poor drainage also fail prematurely. Now couple failing ties to being supported by mud and this formula may allow the gauge of the rail (56 inches) to slip. The rail itself may move laterally and/or vertically. And the two rails might not move together when the action occurs. Severe differences between the movement of the rails can lead to derailments. If nothing else, it leads to speed restrictions being placed upon the track.

Even under the best of maintenance, ties also don't last forever. This is a prime reason railroads undertake routine project tie replacement programs. Usually every so many years, a high production tie gang will work their way across a route and replace ties.

Back in the dark days when roads like the Rock Island, Penn Central and Milwaukee Road were in dire financial straights, track maintenance was sacrificed to reduce operating costs. These lines experienced severe deterioration of some of their routes. This deterioration led to weakened track structure resulting in reduced train speeds. These roads were not alone though as some other lines also reduced track maintenance to save money. Where bad track develops, problems like reduced train speeds and derailments normally follow. Fortunately, the industry seems to be long past those days. Today most of the industry spends, or perhaps reinvests would be a more appropriate term, significant sums of capital into the physical plant.

Continous Welded Rail

See Welding for several photos of this operation

One investment in the physical plant is the extensive use of welded rail. Welded rail, known as continuous welded rail (CWR), is often referred to as ribbon rail. It appears like a long ribbon of steel. There are two methods in which rail can be permanently joined together. The use of very high electrical current to weld rail is known as flash butt welding. The flash butt process is nothing like the arc welding process that uses current and welding rods with a welder carrying a bead to create the bond. A large welding machine using electrical current pulls the rail together and uses large copper ingots to transmit the current to the rail creating high temperatures to heat the rail to a point the ends get extremely hot and very soft and pliable. The rail is permanently joined together using the steel from the rail ends themselves to create the bond. At the last moment of the welding process the rail is pushed together to fuse it tightly. This causes some the heated material to bulge out all around the weld itself. This excess is chipped and later ground off to make a smooth and even bond.

One of the biggest private contractors that welds rail for the industry is Holland Company. Right before I joined the rail industry in 1978, I worked for them and learned a great deal about the process.

New or relay (previously used) rail is first prepared for the weld. The web at the ends of the rail that will be in contact with the copper ingots of the welder are first ground using a grinder to shine up the surface. This creates a clean contact point. Used rail that is to be welded is first tested for flaws and once deemed good to use is then cropped. Cropping takes the old ends off the rail removing any battering and also ridding the rail of the old bolt holes. This step is accomplished using a rail saw which cuts through the rail. The saw and blades used are nothing you will find at any home supply stores. Once these steps are completed, the rail is now ready to be welded.

The welder is placed onto the rails to be welded and the two pieces of rail are pulled together. Once everything is properly set, the process is started and the welder begins to do its thing. The action taking place sounds a little like some of the sounds from an old "Frankenstein" movie, lots of electrical humming with some hissing and popping. Sparks will fly out as well.

After each weld is completed (a process taking several minutes), excess steel and slag are knocked off and the weld is magnaflux tested to assure it is a quality weld. Once deemed a good weld, the welded joint is ground smooth all the way around the rail, top to bottom and both sides. Each weld is assigned a number and this number and the date of the weld is marked on the rail and recorded in a log. Should this weld fail in an inordinate period of time, the failed portion will be cut out and sent back to a lab for analysis to study and determine what caused the failure and how to prevent such a failure in the future. They are trying to discover whether it was a manufacturing flaw within the rail itself, or a problem with the welding process or perhaps a combination of both. I guess this would be considered post production research and development. From what I was told by CSX people, they follow the same sort of guidelines with their rail welding plant and process.

Holland has set up permanent rail welding plants for some of the railroads on railroad property. In the past, Holland has provided management and some of the help to operate these plants in conjunction with the railroads. In the case of the portable plants Holland will set up at a specific location, often near where the rail will be installed. In the case of the portable plants, the contracting railroad will hire Holland or another company to perform a specific number of welds over a defined period of time. Holland provides all the management and most, if not all of the help required to complete the project. The contracting railroad may or may not provide some of the labor. Once the project is completed, the plant is buttoned up and shipped back to the home shop or sent directly to another project.

In my days at Holland, we had portable plants in British Columbia and Quebec in Canada, plants in Kansas City, MO, Savanna, IL, and two permanent plants, one in Colorado and Texas. An in-track welder hauled in a former passenger car was also in use in Southern Illinois. Another portable plant had also just returned from Surinam in the jungles of South America. Other permanent plants had also been set up by Holland for railroads on their respective properties and operated directly by these railroads with technical expertise and equipment provided by Holland.

Rail is welded in high production plants of fixed or transportable locations. Totally self contained plants can be transported from job site to job site all across the globe. In track welders are also used. These on-track, self propelled vehicles can weld rail in place right on the roadbed. Or through the use of highway tires can travel along side the right of way and weld rail lying next to the location where it will be installed. These vehicles can be quickly placed on or off the track and can move to different job sites quickly. The in-track on rail welding truck was developed by Holland with the very first one constructed while I was employed there. Like everything else in the industry, the in-track welding truck has evolved immensely since that first one was built in 1978.

To learn more about Holland and the rail welding process and its evolution, I highly recommend visiting Holland Co

Oftentimes jointed rail is welded while in place on the right of way. A sufficient amount of spikes are pulled allowing the rail to be raised using track jacks. The nuts, bolts and angle bars are removed and the rail ends are cropped. Sometimes they entire joint is simply sawed out without removing the angle bars and bolts. This whole segment is just cut right out in one piece. The new ends are pulled together, prepared and flash-butt welded. As they crop the ends of each rail where the joints are being eliminated there becomes a deficit of rail. A length of rail is then added as required to fill the gap and welded into place.

Thermite Welding

See Welding for several photos of this operation

The other method commonly employed to weld rail uses heat from a combustion source and incorporates the use of filler material to bond two pieces of rail together. This process is known as thermite welding. The filler includes metal shavings and gunpowder (to assist in creating sufficient heat) among other material. Flash-butt welding is considered to be the better of the two processes.

Thermite welds are generally used in the field to make repairs such as a length of rail that has been changed out. A new piece of rail has been cut in to replace a portion that has broken or developed a defect. If a new insulated joint associated with a new or existing signal is installed, it will be field welded into place. The same occurs should a new switch be installed. The process takes longer to set up and actually complete than does flash butt welding, but is more practical in certain applications. A railroad's own welder (the employee not the machine) is employed for field welds. Rail ends will not necessarily have to be cropped as the filler material used will fill the gaps such as those created from bolt holes drilled into the rail.

Even though over time both may fail, thermite welds tend to be more prone to failure than flash-butt welds. From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed more failed thermite welds than flash butt welds. However, from a practical and economical standpoint, they are far more practical in certain situations and applications that flash-butt welds.

Welding rail provides many benefits for railroads. Eliminating joints reduces the required joint maintenance thus saving money and time. With fewer joints to maintain, less people are required as is less material. Welded rail also reduces warping of rail and battered ends. Fuel savings are realized as there is less resistance in rolling. Jointed rail creates friction and rolling resistance. Welded rail is friendlier to the neighbors as with fewer joints there is less noise. Wheels hitting joints do make a great deal of noise.

Rail Grinding

"Clickity-clack, clickity-clack."

Also See Rail Grinding FAQ or PJ and Loram for photos

Rail also wears from the rubbing of flanges on the wheels against the inside of ball of the rail, particularly on curves. Railroads have attempted to address this problem through the use of flange lubrication. There are several different methods used to lubricate flanges and reduce or minimize rail wear. Flange lubrication systems are often applied to locomotives. They apply a thin layer of lubricant to the flanges of the locomotive wheels to reduce wear to both the wheel flange and rail head. In track lubricators are employed at some locations. These are devices mounted onto the track structure that apply lubricant to the flanges of wheels passing over it.

Some railroads use a lubricant applied directly to the inside of the ball of the rail. This is accomplished through the use of a track lubrication applicator mounted on hy-rail equipment such as a modified pick up truck. Such a truck will travel on the rail and apply a thin layer of lubricant as it travels the route. The Illinois Central was a big subscriber to this method for years.

While good drainage, well ballasted and well maintained roadbed are boss to sustaining longer rail life, there is still more that can be done to achieve ripe old age for the rail itself. Most railroads also subscribe to a program of rail grinding. Rail head wears and loses it shape over time from heavy tonnage that pounds over it. Grinding the rail head reprofiles the head of the rail (known as the ball) returning it to the original profile which will increase rail life. Properly profiled rail also offers less rolling resistance thus lends to fuel savings.

There are several outfits with whom the railroads contract to reprofile rail. These contractors make use of self contained trains that travel the rail to grind it back to the required profile. These trains may be pulled by a regular locomotive or a power car designed to both power the equipment and pull the train. The power cars often have some rail grinding equipment mounted to them. These power cars have cabs with the controls to operate this like a train. It can pull the grinding train from job to job just like a regular train at speeds up to 50 MPH.

While actually performing the grinding and reprofiling the rail, these grinder trains operate at very slow speeds. Ground material does fly out and can also start fires along the right of way. Fire trains sometimes follow the grinder trains. These trains have a tank car or two of water along with a pump and a hose to spray water on fires that have ignited along the right of way. I've worked a few of these trains too.

The rail grinder trains do have a limitation in that they cannot grind switches. Usher in the switch grinder. These are self contained on-track machines used specifically to grind switches. They only grind switches and not rest of the railroad. They also travel from job to job on the rail. Like the power cars on grinder trains, the switch grinders have no suspension on them so as to allow them to properly work and ride the rail for the grinding application. However, they ride absolutely terrible when traveling from job site to job site. Having ridden in several of them over the years, I can tell you it is quite the rough ride too. They are real kidney killers

Now no matter how much money and effort railroads place into track maintenance, rail still wears out. There is no way around it. A constant barrage of heavy tonnage rolling across the rail at high speeds takes quite the toll on the iron. And when the wear has reached the point that no maintenance in the world can save it, the rail has to be replaced.

While a small gang may perform spot rail change out or the replacement of smaller segments, to replace miles of rail on a route require the use of a high production rail or steel gang to perform the task. Replacing rail is a very intensive project requiring the use of such high production gangs.

In the early spring of 1996, I had the opportunity and privilege of being assigned to such a project. In participating in this project, I was able to observe up close and personal, the steps and procedures used by a high production steel gang. I learned an incredible amount about rail and the change out process.

The portion of the Indiana Harbor Belt between Grand Trunk Tower in Blue Island, IL and Superior in La Grange (behind the EMD plant) is actually owned by CSX Transportation. The IHB has operated this portion of the railroad as its own for years as part of a deal made with the Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad. At one time both the IHB and B&OCT were building parallel routes in this region. It was quickly realized both lines would not be able to survive with competing routes so closely spaced. The deal was struck for both lines to use a single route in this corridor. The IHB took over the operation of the completed B&OCT tying it into their own route. The IHB timetable and NORAC rules govern the line, which is also dispatched by the IHB. The B&OCT agreed to handle the maintenance and provide all the required track materials. Both lines use the entire line as needed with as many trains as they desire and require.

Today B&OCT successor CSX continues to provide the roadway workers, maintenance and materials needed to support the track and structure. There is one exception though, the interlocking plant at CP Ridge in Chicago Ridge. IHB maintains the signals and appliance within this plant, the crossing with Metra's Southwest Services line (the former NS, ex-N&W, nee Wabash). The IHB signal department maintains this plant as part of a deal struck in 1994 that closed the tower that stood here and was staffed by a Norfolk Southern employee.

Clear as mud, right?

In 1995 it was decided by the powers that be at CSX to upgrade the rail and switches along the IHB route between Grand Trunk Tower and Superior beginning in 1996. In late February and early March, loaded welded rail trains were delivered to CSX's Barr Yard from their rail welding plant in Georgia. These trains carry several miles of rail in 1440 foot lengths (or sticks) of continuous welded rail loaded into racks that are equipped with rollers to facilitate unloading. An unloading machine is part of the train and is used to pull the rail from the cars and drop it along side the right of way.

For this project 136 lb. premium quality, head hardened rail would be installed, some of the best rail money can buy. This type of rail will wear well and withstand the rigors of large volumes of traffic the IHB handles on a daily basis. The 78 foot lengths of rail were delivered new to CSX's rail welding plant near Atlanta, welded into the 1440 foot sticks and loaded them onto rail trains in preparation to shipment to Illinois for this project.

CSX began dropping the rail along the intended route in preparation of the project beginning. The use of a work train with a CSX train and engine crew assisted by CSX Maintenance of Way employees handled this portion of the project. All other materials needed for this project such as tie plates, spikes and rail anchors will also be placed along the route in advance of the project's commencement so that the crews will have all of the necessary hardware they will require to complete the project on time. They do not want the crews to be idled while awaiting the delivery of materials thus delaying the project.

The steel gang works on a very tight schedule. This group is CSX's high production steel gang. All they do is pull old rail and replace it with new or relay welded rail. They do not change out ties or switches, they replace rail. This project must be completed on time as they have another project to begin shortly after this one, which I learned was a project on the former Clinchfield Railroad. So time is of the both the major factor and also the enemy.

In conjunction with the rail project, CSX also undertook a program to replace several sets of hand operated crossover switches and also renewed several road crossings. This project was rather huge. With such an undertaking, CSX required a curfew in which no trains would be operated on the adjacent track during the working hours of the steel gangs. A twelve hour curfew would be enacted daily Monday through Friday between the hours of 0800 to 2000 hours for the two weeks this project would encompass. This curfew would become quite the battle as you will read.

In part two of this piece, we will delve into the entire process start to finish, of the installation new rail with the CSX high production steel gang. This was an amazing process to observe and be a part of. It is my intention to try to give you as much detail and information as possible. I have numerous photos from this project and will post them at a site kind enough to play host them so you can observe for yourself some of what I will be describing.

I would also like to thank Mark Lynn for his technical assistance on part one. Mark checked out much of what I wrote to assure I had it all correct. And as you have read, he also supplied some very important information. In part two we may include some of his first hand encounters as well.

And so it goes. Tuch

Hot Times on the High Iron

16 June 03 2003 by JD Santucci

Galion Crane Tie Plugger Cribber
Galion threader Flash Butt Welding Spiker/Gauger
Rail Heater Spike Drivers

Note: Parts of this column that do not directly relate to the operation of a track gang have been omitted. For the full article, see Hot Times Archive

We are providing a couple special additions for today's column including something all new, photographs. There will be various photographs accompanying today's piece. I will also include the URL's for each picture as part of the description of each step as well. You can take a look there to get a view of the equipment used in the operation of removing and installing rail as well.

On Monday, April 1, 1996, I became part of this CSX rail project. April Fool's Day, doesn't it just figure? I met the Supervisor of the gang, a fellow named Frosty Hendricks. Frosty came from a railroad family that had its roots steeped deeply within CSX predecessor Chesapeake & Ohio. Frosty and his right hand man, Joe Sapp, gave me a background of this gang and its workings. There were seventy-four men and thirty-four pieces of equipment assigned to the gang. Local track department employees such as a track foreman and track workers were drafted into the project at each location the steel gang worked to augment their force. Most of the regular steel gang employees were long time members with virtually all of them having been a part of this gang for seven or more years. These guys were indeed, a real team; very professional in their methods and performance and very proud of the work they did and their abilities to perform it so efficiently, professionally and safely.

Of this gang, there were foremen, lead men, machine operators, laborers and mechanical employees. An entourage like this needs its own mechanical force to maintain the equipment and be on hand to affect immediate repairs should there be a breakdown. It was a well oiled machine; quite interesting and amazing to watch.

Safety was very strongly stressed and it showed. These guys worked very well and very safe. Not one personal injury had occurred the entire time they were on this project and they had gone quite a while previously without a personal injury. Every morning a job briefing was held before the workday commenced. A safety rule of the day was read, any safety issues were touched upon, along with any other items with regards to safety such as the weather. And weather was a factor as several of the days were quite cold and windy, including a bit of snow. The briefing was closed with a prayer asking for a safe day and guidance; very touching indeed. And interestingly enough, there was no concern about being politically correct with regards to anybody's particular religious denomination. Everybody at the briefing bowed their head while a prayer was offered out loud.

So with all of this foundation laid, I will now lead you through this process. We will look at the procedures and methods used by the steel gang to go about the duties of removing the old and installing the new rail.

On day one prior to the curfew, all the equipment was off loaded from flatcars and positioned for service. All of the equipment was fueled, serviced, supplied and ready to go. The crew of the steel gang was chomping at the bit and ready to begin.

Once allowed onto the main tracks, they immediately began their operation. It was quite the impressive performance. Beginning the entire process was a machine designed to pull spikes. He began yanking all the spikes out of all the ties. The spikes were only pulled from one rail, not both. The plan called for the rail on one side to be changed out completely. The gang then worked back pulling out and replacing the other one. Front End of the Steel Gang

Galion Crane

A Galion crane followed and began pulling the rail up and off the tie plates and setting it over onto the shoulder of the right of way.
Galion Crane with Anchor Knocker
For those unfamiliar with this machine, a Galion crane (pronounced GAL-yun) is a brand of crane, manufactured in Galion, OH. This is a crane with a boom that extends and also swivels 360 degrees. The crane is mounted on solid rubber tires (that cost some $5000 a piece) and is equipped with hy-rail equipment to allow it to operate on the rail as well as the road. The solid tires do not get flats in the inhospitable environment along the right of way. Believe me traveling along the right of way with conventional tries would have them chewed apart in no time.

In addition to their normal work chores with the gang, they are also used to place equipment needed on and off the rail and also load and unload the equipment from the flatcars that transport it across the CSX system. The Galion cranes are incredibly versatile and this gang would not be able to function efficiently without them. There are several of them assigned to the steel gang and their operators are very proficient in their use.

The first couple of days of the project had the gang testing an item called an "Anchor Knocker." This was mounted to the guide on the Galion crane that was used to pull the rail. The Anchor Knocker was being tested to allow the removal of rail anchors simultaneously with the pulling up of the rail.

Rail anchors are used in between ties to help hold the rail in place during temperature changes. They keep the rail from buckling and kinking in hot weather when the rail wants to run from the exposure to heat. The Anchor Knocker was supposed to literally knock the anchors off and away from the rail as it was being pulled up. This tool was hoped to be able to eliminate the manual process of removing the anchors thus allowing the reduction of a couple of workers from the gang. The device met with mixed results and wound up being dropped from use by the second day. At times it was actually hanging up on the anchors instead of knocking them off.

The Galion cranes would move the old rail to the outside of where the new, replacement rail was laying and drop it there. Any angle bars and bolts that connected lengths of the removed rail together were manually removed later.

The next machine to come along was the "Wheel of Fortune."
Wheel_of_Fortune 1
Wheel_of_Fortune 2
No, this wasn't a game with Pat and Vanna, this was an interesting machine. This machine had a large circular magnet that rotated. It followed the Galion crane and picked up the used spikes, tie plates and rail anchors. This machine was set up with wheels to ride the rail in place on one side and treads like those on a Caterpillar tractor to propel the machine. One side would use the rail wheels to guide it while the other side used the treads to level and propel it in the place where the old rail had been removed. The discarded material was picked up by the magnet, dropped onto a conveyor and then dumped to the outside of the ties. This machine was used to provide a clean working environment and safe place to walk. Having to manually remove the discarded materials would certainly slow the operation as well as provide for very unsafe footing.

Tie Plugger

Following the Wheel of Fortune was the Tie Plugger. This self propelled machine was lead by the operator using a hand held controller. There was a hose and electrical line tethered together that the operator held. Like the Wheel of Fortune, this machine had rail wheels on one side and treads on the other. The operator walked ahead of this machine using the controls in his hand to advance, reverse and stop the machine. The hose he held pumped a polymer that filled or plugged the old spike holes in the ties.

This polymer dried very quickly and got hard. It would allow new spikes to be driven into the old, now plugged spike holes allowing them to make a tight bond to the ties. This process is far more efficient, faster and economical than filling each spike hole with the wooden wedges often used to fill the spike holes when making spot rail replacement.


The next machine in the process was the Cribber
Cribber1 -
Cribber 2
This machine also had rail wheels and treads. There was a large brush like device on this machine that cleared the ballast away from the ties. Ballast on and between the ties was brushed clear.

The Cribber-Adzer came next. This machine prepared the ties for the new tie plates. The surface of the ties were scraped and cleaned. Like the machines ahead of it in the procession, it had rail wheels on one side and treads on the other.

Right behind the Cribber/Adzer were several laborers that set tie plates in position on the ties. They performed this chore manually using long hooks to grab the tie plates and set them. These hooks eliminated or at least greatly reduced the need for stooping or bending over, thus minimizing the potential for personal injuries. I was amazed a machine hadn't been developed to perform this chore.

Galion Crane Threader

Immediately behind the tie plate setters comes another Galion crane that was threading the new rail into place.
Threading rail 1
Threading rail 2
The operator of this crane was very skilled at this operation. He used a tool attached to the hook at the end of his cable to grab and pick up the rail. There were rollers on this tool to allow it to move freely along the rail while threading it into place. A set of wheels on the Galion itself also guided the rail into place and pressed it onto the tie plates. - 

Flash Butt Weld

An in-track welding truck comes next.
Flash Butt Welding 1
Flash Butt Welding 2
Each new stick of rail laid is also welded together to create even longer sticks of rail. The crew on this truck first prepares the ends of each 1440 foot stick of rail for the in-track weld. The web of the rail at the ends is ground using a rail grinder to remove any oxidation and shine the surface. This will allow for optimum contact of the coppers on the welder to the rail for the transmission of the electrical charge from the welder to the rail itself. The rail is then jacked up with track jacks. Elevating the rail allows the welding unit to reach completely around the rail. Should a tie be in the way, it is shoved back a short distance to provide for a clear welding area.

The stick of rail right ahead of the weld is grabbed and held by a Galion crane and then the welder is set into place at the two sticks of rail to be welded. Once everything is set to the satisfaction of the welder operator, he starts the welder. The welding process is automatic. A power plant on the truck powers the welder and all associated appliances including the hoist and boom that raise, lower and guide the welder unit itself.

At the very last moment of the weld before the welder shuts off, the welder operator, using his radio says "Now" and the Galion operator pushes the rail ahead of the welder towards the welder to create that final fuse between the two rails. The welder is then removed from the rail exposing the new weld.
Finished_weld 1
Finished weld 2

Excess steel and slag is chipped and chiseled away from the new weld. The rail is then lowered back into place and the track jacks removed and loaded back onto the welder truck. The in-track welder then moves ahead in the parade.

A rail grinder comes next. Using special grinding equipment, the operator grinds the new welds smooth. There are two types of grinders that may be used. One is mounted on a cart that rides the rails. The operator moves the cart and grinder back and forth to assure a smooth even grind that eliminates rough spots. The other type of grinder rides on just an individual rail but achieves the same purpose.
Grinding the weld 2
More grinding


The next step is the Spiker-Gauger. Self propelled, this machine lines the rail into the 4 foot, eight and one-half inch gauge and then drives a spike on either side of the rail through the new tie plate and into the tie. This machine drives spikes in every fifth or sixth tie if I recall correctly.

Rail Heater

Next in line is the rail heater.
Rail_Heater 1
Rail Heater 3
This self propelled machine uses propane gas to fire heaters that will actually heat up the rail. This is a three piece machine with the front portion used to heat the ball of the rail, the middle holding a fuel tank and supplies and the rear section used to heat the web of the rail on both sides. Rail temperature must be 90 degrees Fahrenheit when it is laid. Before it can be permanently set to the ties, it must be heated to the proper temperature. The rail heater travels slowly along the rail heating it using the heater units above and along side the railhead. A special rail temperature gauge is used to measure rail temperature to determine how much the rail will need to be heated.

Behind the rail heater comes the Anchor Setter. This machine sets new rail anchors on the base of the rail in between ties.

Spike Drivers

Next come three Spike Drivers.
Spike Driver 1
Spike Driver 2
These self propelled machines drive several spikes at a time, on both sides of the rail. Three machines make the work quicker as one machine could not drive enough spikes or move fast enough to accomplish the work in a timely fashion. With three Spike Drivers, they split the work pretty evenly and get the work accomplished quickly.

The rail laying process itself is now complete. Laborers follow to assure all spikes are properly tacked down and also check to assure all anchors are set as well.

A Signal Maintainer will then bond any connections required between the rail and insulated joints and any other connections required to allow for the operation of signals and crossing

At the end of the work day when the steel gang is getting into the clear, a crew performs any finishing work required to get the line back in service. At the end of the last new stick of rail installed that day, it must be connected to the existing rail. This requires the stand nuts, bolts, washers and angle bars. Holes have to be drilled into the new rail and the joint between new and old is connected together. The Maintainer fuses a bond wire between the new and old rail at this point.

If the rail joined at this joint is of two different weights, the use of compensating angle bars is used. This type of bar is designed to join two different weights of rail together. There is also a difference in the height of the rail where it meets and this problem needs to be addressed as well. The Track Welder will weld up the ball of the older rail that sits below the new, heavier rail. Using a standard arc welder, beads from welding rods will be laid on the old rail building up a ramp as it were to create a smoother joint. If this wasn't done, the wheels would slam the slightly elevated new rail and begin battering the end almost immediately. Once this process is finished and everybody is reported clear, the curfew is released for the say and the railroad is placed back into service.

Many of the evenings I was with Track Foreman Luciano Arroyo when he reported everybody in the clear, released the curfew and placed the track back into service. It was positively ascertained that everybody was indeed, in the clear before releasing the curfew. I was usually on the phone to the Assistant MTO at the same time reporting this information to him. Needless to say, this guy was usually very pleased to get this news.

Several evenings the curfew went a little later than the bulletin. It was usually only ten or twenty minutes. Not bad considering the steel gang was held in the clear so long at the beginning of several these days.

As I recall, once the line was placed back into service, the first train was to operate at 10 MPH and the following trains were required to operate at 25 MPH.

On the final night of the project, the steel gang Supervisor treated everybody involved in the project to a prime rib dinner at a nearby restaurant. The steel gang proper was in the clear well before the end of the curfew. They got the chance to clean up and then headed to dinner. I had to be out well past the time the dinner began with the "residual" force that was finishing up the remaining chores on the project. So by the time I was finished with my duties, dinner was nearly over so I missed out. I just hate to miss out on free food.

I would again like to thank Mark Lynn for his input on this column. I would also like to thank Otto Vondrak and Michael Roque of the Railroad.com website (http://www.railroad.net/) for being kind enough to host the photos that accompany this column. They had to put forth the effort to get me through the process of sending them the photos and then taking the time to add them to their site. I'm sure they might appreciate a few comments from you folks as well.

And so it goes.

Hot Times on the High Iron August 02

Zero Throttle Braking Reduced throttle braking
Dynamic Brakes Throttle Modulation

Today we save a little gas.

The rail industry consumes thousands of barrels of fuel on a daily basis. Diesel-Electric locomotives feed upon an exclusive diet of #2 diesel fuel. Over the years there have been trials of alternative fuels with limited to moderate success. Several railroads, including

Burlington Northern, have tested locomotives equipped to burn liquefied natural gas. Both Union Pacific and the Santa Fe operated natural gas powered switch engines built by Morrison-Knudsen in the Los Angeles area. BN equipped a group of SD40-2 locomotives for service in through freight service during the 80?s. Prior to that, the tried the fuel on a couple of GP9?s used in local and industry service in Minnesota. Eventually BN gave up on the idea of gas powered engines and both the Geeps and Special Duty units were converted back to diesel fuel.

Union Pacific converted a fleet of units to burn Bunker C oil, a heavy, thick fuel during the 1960?s. Bunker C was dirt cheap in those days, cheaper than diesel. This was the primary reason for the conversion. The units involved in the conversion underwent numerous modifications to allow them to burn what essentially was petroleum sludge. As the price of Bunker C began to escalate, UP gave up on the idea and converted this fleet back to diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel has consistently been the tried and true method of powering locomotive prime movers. And just like the average consumer driving their automobiles, the railroads have been subject to the ebbs and flows of fuel prices. And just like the motoring public and car builders, the industry and locomotive manufacturers have risen to the challenge of fuel conservation.

The fuel conservation aspect has been a greater challenge for locomotive builders than for the car builders. Unlike your automobile, lighter weight materials such as plastics and aluminum cannot be used to lighten up the locomotives for better fuel economy. When it comes to weight, locomotives have to maintain their heavier weights for adhesion to the rail.

One of the first offerings was low idle. This was a relatively simple idea. Whenever the reverser on the controlling locomotive is centered (placed in the center position between forward and reverse), the locomotive?s prime mover reduces from its regular idle Rpm?s to a lower Rpm setting. This can be a reduction of 50 to 75 revolutions per minute. While it does not sound like much, it is. As the Rpm?s are reduced, the amount of fuel required to keep the prime mover running is also reduced. Any and all units in the locomotive consist equipped with the low idle feature will also drop to low idle when the reverser is centered on the controlling locomotive. ElectroMotive Division of GM first introduced this product in the mid 70?s. GE didn?t follow suit until the very early 80?s. Kits have been offered to apply this feature to older locomotives. Numerous locomotives equipped with low idle have a badge or decal on the control stand reminding the Engineer to center the reverser when not moving.

MoPac had the feature applied to all their EMD products built after 1976. They added it to units not previously equipped as well. There was a draw back to the product on some units though. MP15DC units built in the early 80 ?s came standard with the product. However, in wintertime Electricians would have to jump the feature out. In the colder months, with the heaters operating and the unit in low idle, the 74 volt electrical system that supplied power to cab utilities like the refrigerator could not sustain enough energy to keep everything properly. To remedy this problem, jumping out the low idle kept everything working.

General Electric units equipped with the low idle had a problem year round with keeping the refrigerators operating normally. The refrigerators would cycle constantly and not maintain adequately cold temperatures. A modification to the locomotive electrical systems was made to alleviate this problem.

The low idle feature was taken a step further in 1980 by EMD. Units would idle at the lower Rpm?s whenever the throttle was in the idle position regardless of what position the reverser was in. The Rpm?s would increase whenever the throttle was advanced out of idle to run 1 or above. Today, virtually all new locomotives have this feature.

Locomotive component producers developed after market products that promote fuel conservation. Harmon and Servo were two companies that manufactured products that allowed for a simple approach to fuel conservation. Harmon developed "Select-A-Power." Conrail was probably the biggest user of Harmon? s product. All of their medium and high horsepower units were equipped with it. MoPac obtained several of these units as well.

Select-A-Power worked relatively easy. Each equipped locomotive had a box mounted above the air brake rack and radio. Indicator lights on the control panel showed you how many working units in the locomotive consist were active and equipped with the feature. When you reached a situation in which you didn?t require all the horsepower from the trailing units in the locomotive consist, you pushed a button on the Select-A-Power control panel to reduce working units in the consist. A light would illuminate for a moment telling you the unit was actively engaged in making the change. The rear most trailing unit would then drop back to idle and the light representing that unit would extinguish on the control panel. If you wanted to reduce more power, depressing the button again would drop the next trailing unit to idle. As you needed to add power for grades and maintaining track speed, you depressed the button on the control panel to add a unit or units to power. You could add and subtract units literally at the push of a button. Conrail was very satisfied with Select-A-Power as most of their power was equipped. Only smaller units like older Geeps used primarily in yard service and Switchers were not equipped.

MoPac tried Select-A-Power and Servo?s product on a select few units, all GP50?s. I cannot recall the marketing name of the Servo product or exactly how it was set up as they only had three units equipped with it. I do recall it had a speedometer built into the display though. A drawback to both of these products was the fact they were not compatible. In fact, a locomotive with a Harmon unit could not be MU?d with locomotive equipped with a Servo unit.

There was another product that allowed for deleting trailing units from responding to the throttle. I have seen them but do not recall the brand name. These units used a selector switch that resembled the headlight control switch. Again, only units equipped with this product would work with it. You simply turned the selector lever to the unit you wished to place into the fuel saver mode and that trailing unit would respond accordingly. I recall seeing this feature on some Grand Trunk Western units.

MoPac also applied a fuel saver switch to all their medium and high horsepower units. This unit was equipped with a toggle switch, placed inside the breaker box in the high voltage cabinet on EMD units and on the wall next to the circuit breaker panel on General Electric units. When switched into the on position, that unit would only respond to throttle positions 1 and 2. The only drawback to this was that if you wanted to set up the feature on trailing units, you would have to journey back to them to either activate or disengage the feature. Normally though, you only used this feature on the lead unit of the locomotive consist.

Most locomotives are set up to provide main reservoir air pressure between 130 and 140 psi. MoPac research demonstrated they could maintain an adequate supply of air pressure for all required systems using a setting of 120 to 130 psi. All the governors on the air compressors were reset to this range. This meant the air compressors did not have to cycle quite as often. The air compressors are powered from the prime mover through a shaft. While the compressor shaft is rotating at all times, the compressor only cycles when there is a demand for air. Whenever the compressor cycles, it draws more power from the prime mover to drive the system. This requires the prime mover to work harder. The less often the compressor has to cycle, the less the prime mover has to work. This resulted in fuel savings.

For years the rail industry allowed for locomotives not ready for service that is, lying over between runs, to sit and idle for hours, sometimes even days. When fuel was cheap, this was no big deal. As fuel prices began to escalate in the 70?s, this attitude began to change. Most railroads began to issue instructions requiring power to be shut down when not being used for extended periods of time when ambient temperatures were 45 or above. Chessie System took this a step further. They required units to be shut down whenever the job went to dinner and even coffee. Seaboard System tried the idea of requiring the Engineer to go back and shut down all trailing units in the locomotive consist whenever the train was going to be stopped for any extended period of time, such as while waiting in a siding for meets with several trains. Today, CNIC is talking about using this method.

A product called the Kim Hot Start system was developed. This system allows a locomotive not used for more than ten minutes to automatically shut down. Whenever the unit would be needed, moving the reverser handle would automatically engage the system and restart the locomotive. Several major railroads have obtained this product including Canadian National. Numerous short lines have also obtained this product. This system includes components that measure oil and cooling water temperature. If the temperature gets below a certain point, the unit will automatically start itself to bring the cooling water temperature up to a safe point to prevent the unit from freezing during cold weather.

Several railroads use a system that heats the lube oil and cooling water while the locomotive is shut down. The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern is one road that comes to mind that uses such a product. Locomotives assigned to their Whiting, IN yard are equipped with this feature. When the locomotive is tied up and shut down, a cable is plugged into a receptacle on the locomotive and the power to it energized. This energy is used to power a system that will circulate and heat the cooling water and lube oil. Even in the most bitter cold weather, the lube oil and cooling water are kept at temperature sufficient to keep the prime mover of the locomotive from freezing up.

Metra also uses this product on their passenger locomotives. The cable that is plugged into the train when it is stored overnight and on weekends provides power for heating, cooling and lighting to the entire train as well as to the locomotive. With this system, Metra does not have to use the locomotives at outlying points to provide the power while the equipment is lying over. While they can set the locomotives for "stand by" for the head end power (HEP), this still burns fuel. In stand by, the locomotive revs constantly as if the throttle was set in run 6 to run a generator that creates electricity to power the coaches. Normally when in service on a train, when the HEP is set in the normal mode, the locomotive revs constantly in Run 8. This allows for the locomotive to create electrical energy for traction.

The rail industry developed programs to promote fuel conservation. Some railroads began to offer training for Locomotive Engineers teaching fuel conservation operating procedures. They produced booklets with fuel conservation tips and charts that demonstrate how much fuel per hour a locomotive burns at certain throttle settings. They sent Engineers for training classes. Had I not been furloughed from the MoPac in 1985, I would have attended a week of fuel conservation training at Union Pacific?s training center in Salt Lake City. Several Engineers I worked with had already been through the class telling me they gained a great deal of knowledge from it. They also explained some of these procedures to me and I have practiced many of them over the years. Instead, they would not let me attend my scheduled week as I was cut off and not working.

In my career, I have watched many videos that explain fuel conservation techniques. I have talked to many Locomotive Engineers from numerous railroads over the years and exchanged and shared fuel conservation ideas with them. Again, I have practiced many of these techniques throughout my career.

There are many ways for Engineers to promote fuel conservation. In the case of having redundant horsepower in your locomotive consist (extra, not required locomotives), the excess power can be isolated or in warmer weather, shut down. Being that we rarely enjoy this luxury on the CNIC, that doesn?t happen too often here. But on the rare occasion it does and when I can, I do comply.

There are numerous ways we have been taught to save fuel in train operations. I will explain several of them to you now.

Throttle Modulation

This is a method of using the throttle, terrain, grades and curvature for optimum fuel conservation. Reducing the throttle at strategic locations and using uphill grades and curves can greatly assist in reducing speed where it may be required. If I have a block signal indicating that I must reduce my speed to enter a siding, I have several options to reduce my speed. I can drive right up to the signal and power brake by taking reductions in brake pipe pressure to set the train brakes while working the throttle hard and slowing down at the last moment. I might use reduced throttle braking which uses air brakes against the throttle, but at a lower throttle setting. I can use throttle modulation if the conditions allow. Dropping the throttle and using any bit of grade can reduce my speed. It may take a little longer, but this is what the industry desires. If there is a bit of curve, this will also help reduce speed. The bind of the curve provides for rolling resistance. My other choice is to use dynamic braking to reduce my speed.

Throttle modulation can also be used to maintain speed over undulating terrain. This would be areas of short and numerous grades often referred to as hog backs or camel backs. Instead of using air brakes for assistance, the throttle and the lay of the land are used.

Dynamic Brakes.

Most railroads require dynamic braking as the preferred choice for reducing speed and stopping trains. Dynamic Braking is basically the reversing of polarity between the traction motors and main generator. Under throttle or motoring, the main generator converts mechanical force of the prime mover (diesel engine) into electrical energy. This electrical energy is what powers the traction motors connected to each axle on the locomotive. With dynamic braking, this polarity is reversed and the traction motors are turned into generators. This retards their rotation causing a braking effect that is measured in amperage. The retarded wheel rotation begins to slow the train. Very little fuel is required to operate the dynamic brakes. Most of the power used is to support ancillary functions such as the fans used for cooling the resister grids. The energy created by dynamic braking is sent to a resister grid. This grid is akin to the grids inside of a toaster, although there are more coils spaced much closer together. The cooling fans draw outside air in through the grid to cool them off and dissipate the heat created in the dynamic braking mode.

On certain electric locomotives and rapid transit cars, the dynamic brake is actually a regenerative braking system. The energy created by the dynamic braking is returned to the electrical transmission system, be it overhead wire or third rail. This offers a financial saving to these operations as they get that electricity back making that much less they have to purchase from local utilities.

EMD locomotives built prior to 1985 have a bulge in the top center of the car body. Inside this bulge is the resister grid. Above the bulge, one or two fans are mounted to draw the air in through the louvers on the side of the bulge. All units built in 1985 and since have the dynamic brake grid placed right behind the high voltage cabinet which is right behind the cab. Moving the grid to this location offers cleaner and cooler air to be drawn into the grid for the cooling process resulting in fewer failures with the system.

Dynamic braking requires more distance and patience though. When making the transition from motoring to dynamic, you must first wait ten seconds to assure that all amperage to the traction motors has decayed. After the wait is finished, you move the dynamic controller into the "Set Up" position. You must then begin take up the slack in the train using lower settings on the dynamic controller. You are bunching up the train. This requires a gentle touch as too much buff action when taking up the slack can cause a car to derail. Once the slack is taken up, you can safely begin to increase the effort of dynamic braking. Dynamic is most efficient at speeds below 40 mph. At 28 mph is when dynamic braking effort is at its greatest. More distance may be required for using dynamics for slowing and stopping.

Unfortunately on many occasions, there is only dynamic brakes on the lead unit in the locomotive consist. When pulling a 12 or 14,000 ton train, the single unit with dynamic brakes will not sufficiently slow and stop the train under most situations. This makes the dynamic almost useless in many situations, or if used, it must be used with the air brakes.

Reduced throttle braking.

In the past, we have used stretch power braking (also referred to as stretch braking or just power braking) to slow and stop trains. In the days of cabooses, this method was almost required. You were trying to keep the slack stretched as much as possible to avoid banging the boys in the back all over the place and causing a possible injury.

Stretch or power braking, meant you would keep the throttle in a higher throttle setting like run 7 or 8. You apply the air brakes to the train and continue to work the power hard against the brake applications. The train is slowing, but you are keeping the slack stretched tight. I learned this method when I first began to learn to run trains. The industry does not want us to perform stretch braking as it burns more fuel.

However, there are some cases when, contrary to what they tell us, it is almost necessary for good train handling.

Reduced throttle braking has you still working power against the brake applications, but instead of higher throttle settings, you use a throttle position of no higher than run 4. You are keeping the slack stretched somewhat in this method. Now that there are no longer cabooses to contend with, a little bit of slack action in the back is no longer a major issue. FRED does not complain about a bump or two here or there.

CNIC does not practice any method of train make up. This would be the placement of loads and empties through out the train. In many cases, we have a bunch of heavy loads at, or very close to, the tail end of the train. And in many of these cases, there is often a block of empty cars right ahead of these loads. Using the company desired method of reduced throttle braking can lead to excessive run in of the slack creating severe in-train forces which might cause a derailment.

On some occasions, we will get a large block of empty stone hoppers on the head end of the train. Behind them will be a bunch of loads scattered throughout the train. In this situation, reduced throttle braking can lead to problems. Even though these problems don?t seem to happen in the simulators, they do happen in the real world. In this case, good judgment sometimes overrules company demands.

Zero Throttle Braking

This is a very different method that can only be used under certain conditions. In my experiences with using it, this method has worked very well. The only place I have found I could use it is on long, descending grades. I used to use this method when bringing trains down Byron Hill in Wisconsin. As I started the descent, I would reduce the throttle to run 4, then make a minimum reduction (5 to 7 psi) of the automatic brake valve, which applies the train brakes. Once the slack was adjusted in the train, I would reduce the throttle to idle, center the reverser handle and let the train roll down the five a half miles of grade. The speed would normally hold at the maximum 40 MPH as the train brakes and the bind of the numerous curves were working for me.

Upon reaching the bottom of the hill, there was a long curve up to the east end of Valley Siding and a bit of an ascending grade. I could now begin to open the throttle and advance it as needed to begin to start pulling the train again. The brakes were still applied and if I had to stop at the west end of Valley, I could do so easily with throttle modulation and, if necessary, an additional application of the train brakes.

The locomotive builders have made significant progress in fuel conservation through the use of microprocessors. All high horsepower locomotives built since the mid 80?s are equipped with computers. Some railroads and also several contract locomotive shops have added microprocessors to some of older high horsepower locomotives as well. Savings have been realized in fuel costs with this addition. The microprocessor-equipped locomotives have contributed greatly to economical operations returning on the investment in them.

Another item the locomotive builders have begun using are electric air compressors. Instead of being connected directly to the prime mover through a drive shaft, the compressor is powered by an electric motor. The motor is far more energy efficient requiring less energy to operate resulting in more fuel economy.

Recently, CNIC issued a notice stating the while tonnage has not increased, fuel consumption has. Of course, they have placed the onus on us, the Locomotive Engineers to save fuel. However, there are many instances where as Locomotive Engineers, we are totally powerless to do anything more than we already do in practicing fuel conservation.

Aside from the overweight and under powered trains, we have numerous situations in which to deal with. First off, we?ll start with smoking locomotives. When a locomotive is smoking excessively, more often than not, this is from incomplete combustion. The incomplete combustion is often the result of a mechanical problem such as a bad injector or power assembly. What this all means is the locomotive is not completely burning all the fuel it is using. That means more fuel consumed to do the same amount of work. This would be akin to driving your car while towing a boat and trailer when the car needs a tune up. You can pull that boat, you are just using far more fuel than necessary.

Locomotives that are not loading the full amount of amperage under specific circumstances also waste fuel. A 3000 horsepower unit that is only producing 2600 or 2700 horsepower as a result of the loading problem is also wasting fuel. You are burning up just as much fuel to get less output.

Then there are operating exigencies. Whenever the Dispatcher does not line a route for my train in a timely fashion, I have to begin to slow the train. Whenever I encounter an approach (yellow) signal indicating I may proceed, prepared to stop before passing the next signal, I attempt to contact the Dispatcher first. If this fails, I must begin to reduce my speed and prepare to stop at the next signal. I can never assume the Dispatcher will line me up in time. If they don?t and I am not prepared to stop, there is an excellent chance I could get by the stop signal and then get into really serious trouble.

So now I am slowing down my train. As I get close to that next signal, it changes to a more favorable signal and I can proceed. But I have already reduced my speed. I have taken momentum and energy out of my train. Now, I have to begin to accelerate again. The momentum and energy must be put back into the train. This is a big waste of fuel. In some cases, we don?t get the signal and have to stop. Now we are sitting and waiting for no reason other than not being lined up in a timely manner. At some point, we will either get the signal or a call wanting to know why we are not moving. Now, we get to restart the train from a stop. All of the energy and momentum have been removed from the train and we must basically start from scratch. Even more fuel is wasted. I have sat at stop signals for ten to fifteen minutes (and longer) for no reason other than not being lined up. This is a total waste. And it happens far more often than many people are willing to admit.

Speed restrictions owing to track conditions are also a factor. This would be similar to stop and go driving your car. Slowing down for a speed restriction and then resuming normal speed once you are clear has the same effect I describe in the above paragraph.

A common occurrence in my days at the Wisconsin Central was trains too big for the railroad over which we operated. We only had three long sidings on the route between Fond du Lac and Schiller Park, and another two that allowed us to "double in." This meant cutting the train and doubling the excess into a track auxiliary to the siding or main track so as to be able to clear up for an opposing train. If we had to double in, the opposing train we were meeting would have to stop back a ways and wait for us to make this move. Then he would start his train again and pass us. After he was clear and we received the signal, we would have to put our train back together again, pump up the air from zero (cycling those air compressors) and wait while the Conductor walks up back up to the engines.

In many cases, we would be told of having to meet another land barge type train. We would be held at one of the few long sidings and then sit and wait for an hour or more for one train. This has also happened at CNIC. There have been cases where our train has been too long to fit into many of the sidings. As a result, somebody has to sit and wait. Fuel is being burned to sit and wait for extended periods of time. We are not alone here either as I hear from friends at other railroads telling similar stories.

And of course, there is that single track thing that I have discussed many times in the past. Stopping, sitting and starting numerous times also plays an important role in fuel consumption.

In the meantime though, I continue make a diligent effort to try to save some fuel under the circumstances in which I am required to work. The bulletin issued stated the Supervisors of Locomotive Engineers are to periodically pull the event recorder tapes and observe them to monitor our compliance. If they want compliance, then I am gong to give them 100% whenever possible. Of course this may increase my running times but, I guess that is just part of that big picture.

But I guess when the Trainmasters leave the motors (and air conditioners) running on the company trucks and cars most all of the time even when they are not in them, that does not count. Gasoline, also consumed a fair quantities by the industry must not count in the conservation equation. And so it goes. Tuch

Hot Times on the High Iron, 2003 by JD Santucci
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North East Rails  Clint Chamberlin. Photos for personal use only. All rights reserved by original owner of image. Reproduction or redistribution in any form without express written permission is prohibited.