A Day On An EMD (OWY)
The phone in my room at Laurel, Montana rang at precisely 7:30am. The crew caller said I was called for a coal empty on duty for 0930. I sleepily said "OK" then she said, "Oh I'm sorry. This is a two hour call. I didn't realize that". Lovely, we are supposed to get a 90 minute call not two hours. I always enjoy getting woke up 30 minutes early. At least it was not the middle of the night and was not on our rest.
The train was the E-SPBDKM-032. By that designation it was the returning empties of the 32nd coal train loaded this year at the Decker Mine (DKM) for the PGE electric plant at Boardman, Oregon (SPB). Decker Mine is one of three mines northeast of Sheridan, Wyoming on the Dutch Subdivision. The 032 does not mean that the Boardman plant has only recieved 32 trains this year, many more SPB's load at other mines in the Gillette area. This one is the 32nd Boardman train to have loaded at Decker.
Normally all trains take their power to the Laurel roundhouse for inspection and servicing and we must get on the power there and take it out into the yard to put on the train. Then we must normally pump up the air and have the carmen give us an initial terminal air brake test.
The SPB coal empties are an exception to this rule. To save time and congestion at Laurel Yard these trains recieve their air brake inspection at Missoula, MT about 350 miles west of Laurel. When they arrive at Laurel it is normally just a crew change and depart. The only other trains that do this at Laurel are the Pipestone ballast trains.
However this day they were swapping power consists on this train for some reason so the inbound crew took their power to the house and we had to go to the house to get our new consist. Our power was four blue and white EMD SD60s, formerly known as OWYs for their Oakway leasing company.
After we got on the train we had to arm and test the FRED since since it was not the same Head End Device that came in on the train. Since these trains are normally run throughs the MRL carmen do not work them. I presume the BNSF does not want to get charged twice for an air test. It was up to my conductor to go back and push FRED's button so I could arm it an then test it. Luckily the car foreman wanted to go to the west end to talk to one of his men so he drove my conductor back. We got FRED fixed up and the foreman drove my conductor back to the head end after speaking to his carman.
From MRL's Laurel Yard the first 2500 feet of mainline is two track CTC between the Mossmain and Shilo CTC control points. East of Shilo it is 14 miles of ABS double track with each track signaled in one direction only. Then from the End Of Double Track at East Billings it is CTC single track for 10 miles to Huntley. The ABS double track section requires track warrant authority.
Normally we would get a single warrant to run with the current of traffic. It would have box 2 x'd,"Proceed between CTC Shilo and CTC East Billings on Eastward main track".Because the MRL operates several switch engines in the Billings area during the daytime hours we frequently have box 11 x'd,"Between MP 2 and CTC East Billings make all movements at Restricted Speed. Limits occupied by train".For the past several weeks the MRL has been working at replacing four bridges that spanned a city street underpass. Two of the bridges carried the eastward and westward auxilliary tracks over the street and the other two carried the two mains over it. The auxilliary tracks bridges were replaced first. That work did not effect our operations any through the area except for the Billings coal train. It is normally set out and picked up on the westward auxilliary.
The mainline bridges present a different matter. The MRL took both mains out of service near the bridges. A track bulletin states that all trains will operate through the eastward auxilliary track and the switches are lined and locked for the auxilliary track. This means that westbound trains have to operate against the current of traffic from CTC East Billings to the east auxlliary track switch. A distance of a bit over one mile. They then must operate through the eastward auxilliary track. At the west switch they again run against the current of traffic to either a set of hand throw crossovers about 1/4th mile beyond the switch or 12 miles all the way to CTC Shilo.
Now here is where it gets screwy. The MRL has self made several roadblocks that make this operation far more ponderous than it should have been.
First of all, about 2-3 weeks ago they removed a dwarf signal protecting the complex of hand throw switches at the east end of the auxilliary tracks for against the current of traffic moves. That block for that dwarf signal was only about 600 feet long as it ended at an "End of Block" sign just beyond the switches. The removal of that dwarf signal extended the previous block through the switches to the End Of Block sign. A mere 600 feet. Seems inocuous enough. Well it isn't.
With the east switch of the eastward auxilliary track lined and locked for use of the auxilliary track the block signal is red. That was no problem when the dwarf was there. It was an ABS signal and you just rolled by it at Restricted Speed after having recieved an approach indication at the previous signal. (MRL does not have the Stop & Proceed rule). However with that dwarf now gone the switches are now part of the previous block so the previous block signal is now red. The previous block is guarded by the absolute signal at the begining of double track at CTC East Billings. So now every westbound train has to stop at East Billings and get talked by the red absolute by the Missoula dispatcher. They then must proceed at Restricted speed for over a mile to the auxilliary track switch. Had the MRL waited a few more weeks to remove that dwarf we could all get a red over yellow (Diverging Approach) at East Billings and roll right up to the dwarf at 35 mph and never stop.
The second roadblock is at the crossover at MP 0.1 west of the west auxilliary track switch. If a WB train has to use this crossover to return to the westward main they must normalize the switches behind their train. That means the conductor must remain at the switches and then walk to the head end after the train clears the crossover and he has them lined back.
The trick dispatchers and the crews are making deals with the yard engine crews or the crews of following WBs or the crews of approaching or stopped EBs to hi-ball the crossover switches and have the other crews line them back. This is technically illegal. I heard one trick DS told his Chief Dispatcher what he was doing and the chief said something like he didn't want to hear that because he'd have to fire the DS and the train crews.
What garbage! An eastbound train sitting 200 feet back of the crossovers waiting for a WB to clear him is in no danger and can easily normalize the crossover for their own movement after the WB clears instead of making the WB's conductor do it and then walk the train length to the head end. But rules is rules. To the letter and nothing else will do. Sheesh!
So now some trick DSs are reluctant to ask other trains to hi-ball the switches for the westbounds. The result is that they give the westbound trains TWC authority to run against the current all the way to Laurel (CTC Shilo) so they will not have to use the hand throw crossover at MP 0.1.
This is fine for the westbound. It sucks for any eastbound wanting to leave Laurel Yard. Because of the westbound coming against the current the EB cannot get a warrant until the WB gets into Laurel Yard and clears his warrant. It makes it a single track railroad for 30 miles all the way from Huntley to Laurel. 12 miles of the westbound main rusts away unused. And that single track RR requires all WB trains to stop at East Billings and get talked by the absolute and requires all trains to operate through the 10 mph auxilliary track at Billings. If the WB is at Huntley when you want to leave Laurel you can count on at least an hour and a quarter delay.
So here we are on our EMDs on our train in Laurel Yard and ready to depart. According to the line up a westbound V train from Sheridan is over due at Huntley. We cross our fingers and beep up the Missoula dispatcher. He answers and gives us a warrant.Track Warrant 1234 issued to the EMD 9039 East at Laurel.Yee haw! We are going all the way to Huntley and don't have wait on anybody. That V train must have really gotten hammered out there some place. I called the Bottom of the West switch engine and told them we were ready to depart. (We were on WB yard track 12 even though we are an eastbound train). The switch engine held us up about 8 minutes while they finished kicking a string of cars then gave us their lead. We pulled and departed at 11:15am, one hour and 45 minutes on duty.
X box 2, Proceed from CTC Shilo to CTC East Billings on Eastward Main Track.
X box 11, Between MP 2 and CTC East Billings make all movements at Restricted Speed. Limits occupied by train.
X box 12, Between MP 2 and CTC East Billings make all movements at Restricted Speed. Limits occupied by men or equipment.
X box 17, Other specific instructions. Item 12 Joint with foreman Smith.
About the time our rear end got onto the main line at Shilo the Missoula DS called us. He says the Z-CHILAU is due at Huntley in 20 minutes and he wants to shorten our limits. Rats! My conductor copies a new warrant.Track warrant 1235 issued to the EMD 9039 East at Shilo.Well that does it! Obviously he is going to run the Z train across from Huntley and have him cross back over to the westward main at the MP 0.1 hand throws. Since the Z is not even due at Huntley for another 20 minutes we are going to get stuck at MP 2. We proceed towards Billings where I stopped short of the busy Moore Lane crossing at MP 2.2 to await the Z.
X box 1, Track Warrant 1234 is void.
X box 2, Proceed from CTC Shilo to MP 2 on Eastward main track.
After sitting at Moore Lane about 15 minutes we hear the DS give the Z train his warrant at Huntley. They get an Item 4, Work Between CTC East Billings and MP 2 on the Eastward Main. They also get items 11, 12, & 17 as we had. The DS then calls us and gives us another warrant.X box 2, Proceed from MP 2 to CTC East Billings on Eastward Main Track.Plus the same boxes 11, 12, and 17 as the first warrant. I am confused? Why did he do that? What was wrong with just keeping the first warrant? Does the CATWC require that he put out the Work Between first? The two separate warrants does permit us to clear the section between Shilo and MP 2 earlier than if it were all one but I didn't see any need for that.
My conductor called foreman Smith to get permission to enter his limits (Item 12 & Item 17). I started the train and pulled down almost two miles to stop near MP 0.2 short of the crossover. Here is picture of our train while stopped at this location.
The Z train always has a set out at Billings. In fact it ceases to be a Z train at Billings after making its set out. An MRL yard engine usually pulls the Billings Z cars off the rear end and spots them to the dock tracks at the hub for unloading. Here the Z train has started across the crossover while the yard engine and I wait. In the distance to the right of the switch engine you can see the Z's train coming off the eastward auxilliary track.
Out my right side window the hub's "Pigy Packer" waits for its cars. The overgrown fork lift can pick containers off cars by attaching to their top corners or can lift trailers off by lowering its swing arms to grasp them underneath.
The Z train has stopped after it cleared the crossover and the MRL switcher has then crossed over behind it. They will grab the FRED from the Z's last car and run it up the yard track to where the cut will be made. The yard crew will re-attach the FRED to the new last car and pull the pin.
After coupling to the cut of cars left by the Z they drag it back over the crossover and shove it into the south dock. The Z has departed for Laurel on the Westward main.
It is our turn now on the next page.
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