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September 2000


Railroads to Develop Internet-Based Marketplace

Six major North American railroads (BNSF, CN, CP, CSXT, NS and UP) have completed the initial phase of a study to develop an internet-based marketplace to serve railroads and their suppliers with one-stop cyber shopping. To own and operate the exchange, the railroads expect to form a new company. Through the exchange, buyers may reduce their costs by improved spending controls and the capability to source goods from around the globe.


CSXT Names New Chief Mechanical Officer for Locomotives

Gerald Siers has been named chief mechanical officer-locomotives for CSXT. He succeeds Michael Wall who was recently named vice president-mechanical operations.


BNSF to Acquire 700 High-Tech Refrigerated Boxcars

Burlington Northern Santa Fe will acquire 700 high-tech refrigerated boxcars over the next two years. The 72-foot cars have a capacity of 8000 cubic feet, almost double the capacity of the company's existing 50-foot cars. The new cars will be equipped with a global positioning system, and a separate two-way satellite communications system designed to detect temperature fluctuations and make necessary adjustments.


BNSF to Extend Loading Guarantee Program to NS and CSXT Points

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has announced agreements with Norfolk Southern and CSXT to extend BNSF's Loading Origin Guarantee program to all destinations on the three rail systems. The program was introduced in January to enhance equipment efficiency and allows customers to secure railcar capacity four to 26 weeks in advance through a weekly auction.


UP to Improve Line in Louisiana

Union Pacific is spending $23.3-million this year on track improvements and upgrade projects on its line between Kinder and Donaldsonville, Louisiana. The work, which began in July and is expected to be completed in October, includes installing 44 miles of new rail and replacing 69,000 crossties.


GE Transportation Systems to Acquire Harmon Industries

GE Transportation Systems has agreed to pay approximately $350-million in GE shares for Harmon Industries Inc., a supplier of railroad equipment and services.


Amtrak Reports Record Ticket Revenue in July

Four weeks after unveiling its unconditional satisfaction guarantee for guests, Amtrak announced an all-time record ticket revenue of $107.2-million in July and a 10-year ridership high of more than two million passengers during the month. The revenue represents an increase of 11.8 percent over July 1999. "Amtrak is having its best summer ever, because we're putting the guest at the center of everything we do and backing it up with a one-of-a-kind guarantee," said Amtrak president George Warrington.


Train Crew, Dispatcher Commended for Quick Actions

[From CSXT Midweek Report, August 24, 2000].... An alert freight train crew and dispatcher combined to help avert a potential conflict between an Amtrak passenger train and a Virginia Railway Express commuter train earlier this month. Al Crown, senior vice president-transportation, says Engineer John Stone and Conductor Carl Shrewsbury quickly notified the Operations Center in Jacksonville when they suspected a faulty signal may have put the Amtrak train on the same section of track with the VRE train, which was stopped at the Fredericksburg, Virginia, station. Upon hearing the train crew's concern, Dispatcher Larry Quinton ordered the Amtrak train to stop and placed the signal in the red stop aspect. "These three employees are to be commended," Crown says. "Their actions were quick, decisive and possibly prevented an incident." The signal failure was traced to a type of wiring called TC Green. The insulation on this type of wiring is suspected of deteriorating when exposed to moisture. Signals are designed to "fail safe" or go to red if they malfunction. This is the first time in the rail industry that a false proceed signal indication has been attributed to TC Green wiring. CSXT immediately set up a three-step approach to address the issue: daily inspections and testing of signal devices on passenger/commuter routes that contain TC Green wiring; installing ground fault interruption devices in all signal devices that contain TC Green wiring to provide an automatic shut-off system; and accelerating the ongoing upgrade of all TC Green-wired signal locations. In addition, CSXT is installing dehumidifiers where practical in affected signal cases to minimize moisture buildup.... On August 8, Stone and Shrewsbury were operating L174, an intermodal train that operates from Richmond to Philadelphia. They had departed Acca Yard at 5:35 a.m. and joined the northbound flow, following VRE Train 308. About six miles south of Fredericksburg, Stone and Shrewsbury were directed to stop their train in a siding. As Amtrak's Auto Train northbound for Lorton, Virginia, neared, Stone and Shrewsbury were surprised to see the signal displaying a yellow "approach," because they knew from radio conversations that the VRE train was stopped in the Fredericksburg station. "We were in the right place at the right time," Stone says. "It was a strange set of circumstances. There was a good possibility that the VRE train would have cleared the station by the time Amtrak got there, but it all worked out well." Stone praised Quinton as "an excellent dispatcher and very attentive." For his part, Quinton says the train crew deserves the bulk of the praise. "The crew on 174 was very alert," Quinton says. "I just did what was required of me." Stone, a 23-year veteran engineer, says it's the first time he's ever seen a false approach signal. "This is a very safe work environment," he says.


Remembering My First Tower

[By Allen Brougham]

In the June issue of the Bull Sheet, I recounted the experience of "Sidewire," my first job on the railroad, and my longing to get the taste of life in a bona fide interlocking tower. It was not until the fourth month into my new employment that I indeed got that chance. I was told to report to HB Tower where I would be posting (training) with Smitty.

Wilbur William Smith, 47 at the time, was the first-shift operator at HB Tower. "You'd better listen to that man!" were the words of advice I heard from one of the train dispatchers I knew from working the Sidewire job.. It seems that Smitty's blend of humor and method of instruction could catch a student operator off guard if he were not fully prepared to learn.

I entered the tower. Smitty was already on duty; the third-shift operator was still there. What I witnessed was the tower's three-sided model board with its numerous track circuit lights, a cacophony of bells, and an incomprehensible jargon from the three speaker phones at the desk. For a greenhorn, it was a scene of bewilderment.

Later I learned of another greenhorn in the same situation, his very first day as a railroader, who took in about half an hour of the identical sort of stuff, and then left with the pretense of having to move his car. He never came back...

Well, I didn't do that; I stuck around, convinced that eventually everything would come together. Anyway, I did have by then at least a little background as a railroader, sequestered in the Sidewire job keeping track of train delays, etc., for the previous three months. And I wanted to be a tower operator.

HB (the call letters nominally drawn from the name Hamburg Street) sat just outside of Camden Station. Its work had earlier been combined with the functions of two former towers (Lee Street and Bailey), the junction of three different subdivisions, territory comprising the main tracks from the west portal of Howard Street Tunnel through Camden Yard and Bailey Wye west toward Carroll (CX) Interlocking, the tracks into Camden Station, and numerous switches to yards on both sides of the main track. Probably 70 percent of the tower's duties involved yard moves. The rule of thumb was to keep the main tracks fluid, and not delay anything (especially passenger trains). It was not uncommon to have four things happening at once. I quickly learned that the train dispatchers relied heavily upon the expertise of the operators at HB and their ability to get things done with little or no supervision.

To this end Smitty was an excellent instructor. I soon learned that his method was to gradually let things fall into place, not answer a bunch of silly questions all at once, and to grill me on what I had learned at appropriate intervals. "Where's the Horn Switch?" he'd ask during a lull in activity, or "What's the starting light used for?" He arranged for me to ride a yard engine around the territory controlled by the tower so I could see things first hand. At one point, he sent me to a block telephone with instructions to call him at the tower. "Mount Airy," answered Smitty when I called him. It was just a joke, as the agent at Mount Airy was no where close to that particular phone circuit, but it was an important reminder to learn the correct ring for the station being called.

I trained with Smitty for about a week, and then I worked the job on my own while he went on three weeks of vacation in Iowa. My first day on the job by myself was a tough one (or so I felt at the time), but I succeeded in getting a good feel on things as time went on. If I hadn't learned all I needed to know while I was posting, I surely learned it my first day by myself. In the due course of time, I began to love the job. "Heaven on Earth" is what I eventually referred to it.

The names of the folks who worked there are still very much remembered after 30 years: Wilbur Smith (first-shift), Johnny Hensen (second-shift), Bill Francis (third-shift), Chic Harrison (relief-turn), Charlie Davidson (rabbit-turn), and Calvin Durner (signal maintainer). A great bunch of folks at a great location!