ForeignerOn July 11, 2002 two weeks before the start of my month-long vacation, I was called for the H-KCKPAS for 1530. We had 22 loads, 42 empties, 4289 tons, and 4669 feet. The power was a relatively new C44, the BNSF 5285, and BNSF 866.
Called right behind me was the V-KCMPTL. Both trains were parked in front of the depot when I arrived for work. They had been there a short time awaiting an MOW window. The lead unit on the V train was the SP 304. We do get Southern Pacific units through Sheridan occasionally but they rarely lead.
We actually were given the choice of which train we wanted. It was 100 degrees so we elected for the new BNSF C44 assuming it would most likely have a working air conditioner and that it would keep working. Besides it was the smaller train and had more horses. I am no fool, rare unit or not.
LocalAfter my vacation, on August 30, 2002 I was called for 1645 for our "local', the M-DENBIL. By our standards it was a whopper. 47 loads, 84 empties, 8452 tons, and 8662 feet long. It had plenty of power though with a Dash 8-40BW, a Dash 8-40, and four SD40-2s. Six units and 20,000 Hp.
The train was obviously too long to fit between switches at Sheridan yard and we had switching to do. We were to set out 4 cars, but were they on the point? No. They were the 101st through 104th cars. To keep from blocking crossings we would have had to triple the train into yard tracks. Then when it came time to put it back together again we would have had no choice but to block crossings.
We were also supposed to pick up 21 cars of woodchips, lumber, and logs from the yard. That would add 1925 tons and another 1280 feet making us 9922 feet long. There were also 48 loads of coal on #5 track to go west to the MRL at Laurel for forwarding to the cement plant at Trident, Montana. They had been there several days already. Those cars weighed about 6240 tons. But for some reason we did not have an order to pick those up. With over 8,000 tons of westbound traffic in the yard we could not understand why they just didn't call a west pool crew and use a set of helpers (Ok two sets of helpers) to run an M-SHWLAU with all that stuff.
Luckily the dispatcher figured out that this train is already too big and realized that we would be hours doing this work account of the train length so he told us to just make the set out and go, leave the pickup. That was definitely good news for us.
There was an eastbound empty coal train on number one track and another empty coming up the main. We called the dispatcher to make sure he was routing the third eastbound, the V-TACMEM, through the coal siding so it would leave the west yard CTC switch clear. Otherwise wasn't anybody going to go any place. Luckily the DS was already on top of it.
Because of the train's length and having to wait at First Street for the eastbounds to get into town the inbound crew wanted to change crews at First Street east of the yard instead of the usual place in front of the depot. Frankly I think the young engineer was just a tad bit nervous about bringing a train like that off the hill and into the yard. We agreed to relieve them at First Street and when we rode the crew van down through the yard we stopped and lined all of the switches we were going to use on our route through the yard.
The young inbound engineer said he had used a full service to stop there on the 1.6% grade of Sheridan Hill. Great. We have to go through number 2 track so that means I have to release the air brakes on this monster on the hill and snake it down through the yard. Because the almost 9,000 ton train has 6 empty cars only 5 cars back and because of diverging through several switches I will have to keep the dynamic braking to a minimum. More than one engineer has stacked up a train entering the yard off the 1.6% hill. It wouldn't have been too bad if he hadn't used all the air stopping there.
I asked him how many of the six units were on line and how many had working dynamic brakes. He DIDN'T KNOW! I would never think of running a long heavy train with 6 big units over the road without knowing how many were on line and how many DBs were active. So I walked through the power before rolling them off the hill. I found all but one SD40-2 were on line and had the dynamics cut in and no Grid Blower lights on nor any other visible defects. By looking at the dynamic brake blisters for the extra little door I found that one of the former BN SD40-2 had been refitted with ATSF's standard extended range DB. One of the remaining SD40-2 was a former ATSF unit. So that gave me 4 extended range DBs (two 4axle units and two 6 axle units) and one regular DB. The regular DB unit won't be doing much at 8-10 mph so it can pretty much be neglected...IF I can hold it to 10 mph since most of the air is gone. If the speed gets up towards 13-15 mph that unit is going to become significant.
Here is a shot of the power I took after I walked through it.
The next photo was taken sitting on the lead unit, ATSF 528, just before I released the air brakes. You can see the empty train on one track and the second one has arrived and stopped on the main. Both are powered by EMD (OWY) SD60s. The DS has radioed us that the V-TACMEM is headed into the coal siding so we can now start our work. He gives us the signal into the yard at First Street, a low lunar Restricting. The signal is aimed around the sharp curve so approaching trains can see it. That makes it somewhat difficult to see from my present location in some lighting conditions.
I told my conductor to keep his fingers crossed for luck and I released the air brakes. I kept the independents on all six units applied fully and put the contoller into full dynamic braking. Of course since we are not moving yet there is no dynamic braking effort being produced but everything is set up.
After about 30-45 seconds the train started shoving the fully braked locomotives off the hill. Even 32 locomotive axles can't hold the train here. As the locos began to move I feathered the independent off to about 45 psi to avoid skating. The loco bell was ringing and I was leaning on the whistle and finally the gates came down just as we entered the crossing. We picked up speed quickly. At about 8 mph I feathered the independents off so the DBs would take over. Interlocks prevent the locos from building up DB if the loco brakes are applied.
The lead unit quickly built up good DB and I could feel the trailing units jumping as their extended range DB circuits cut out resistance grids to build braking amperage. But there was no way DB alone was going to controll this train to 10 mph and those empty cars were approaching the first switch. I have to set air and back off of the DB some. I knew the brakes would not apply on at least the rear 3rd of the train but I was hoping enough cars on the headend had gotten enough of a recharge to be effective.
I made a 15 psi reduction and I got no air brake exhaust blow at all of course. I increased it to 22 psi. Now I got some exhaust. We climbed to 11 mph as I reduced the DB to about half. We were still accelerating. I increased the reduction to 27 psi.
By now I had those empties over the switches at the east lead and had gotten up to 12 mph. I knew there was a long block of heavy loads behind them so I increased the DB hoping none would pick a switch or climb a frog. With the air brakes and DB we were back down to 10 mph and more and more cars were "leveling" out on the yard grade. I started reducing DB to maintain 10 mph. At about half DB I released the air brakes. As the brakes slowly released I increased DB again to hold 10 mph. Now that most of the loads were off the 1.6% and there were no switches near the head end I could hold the train with full dynamics.
The inbound conductor had volunteered to do the set out for us. He was stationed at the west yard lead as we whined past. I continued down the long two track extension past the depot and out onto the main through the west yard CTC switch. The new crew for the V-TACMEM was just boarding their train in the coal siding as we passed their head end. Our rear end was of course still coming in the CTC switch at the east end of the yard so the empty coal train was still sitting on the main blocking the V train.
I continued west on the main line under the I-90 overpass and on towards the west coal siding switch where the V train's rear end was hanging out. Finally the inbound conductor radioed. "Ten cars, Al". I set the air brakes. "Five cars to the cut, Al". I increased the DB and increased the reduction. "Two cars Denver-Billings. That'll do when you get em stopped".
When the air had stopped blowing from the required 20 psi set the inbound conductor turned the anglecock 104 cars back, pulled the pin, and told me to pull ahead 5 cars to clear the switch. When I cleared the switch I was only about 8 car lengths from the V train fouling the west coal siding CTC switch. This a LONG sucker!
The coal empty on the main was departing eastward. We backed up and set the 4 cars out on #8 track then put our train back together. While we were getting the air pumped up the V train started moving. By the time the air was ready to set & release the V was gone and we had a green signal at the west coal siding to leave.
I gently started the long train and held 10 mph until the rear end came out onto the main at the west yard CTC switch then very carefully got out of DB, stretched them all out, and turned the horses lose. A few minute later we were rolling through East Kiewit at track speed on our way to Laurel, Montana.
The only siding that would hold us was the first one, Ranchester, so the DS had to split up all the eastbounds coming against us so we could meet only one at each siding. We had no on line work to do. We had departed Sheridan at 1800 and arrived at Laurel at 2310. Five hours and ten nminutes over the road. Not bad for such a large and lowly local. After doubling the train over into Laurel Yard and taking the power to the house we tied up at midnight:45. Eight hours on duty.
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