Jump to content




Help Support AmtrakTrains.com by donating using the link above or becoming a Supporting Member.

Photo

Switching out cars


  • Please log in to reply
33 replies to this topic

#1 Ispolkom

Ispolkom

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,076 posts
  • Location:St. Paul, Minn.

Posted 10 April 2010 - 11:21 PM

Why is switching cars out such a complicated thing for Amtrak? It seems to take forever in Spokane and Albany (and St. Paul, now that I think of it), but when I look at "Night Trains" I see that in the 1950s a sleeper going from Montreal to Washington or Boston would be switched 4 times in a night. Heck, when I took the Moscow-Ostend express in 1991 (it was actually just one sleeper car), we were switched between, umm, 5 trains, I think.

My guess is that switching used to be much more common an activity on railroads, so they had crews, equipment, and experience. There were many more passenger trains, and even freight trains would be constantly setting out cars at stations. Now the railroads focus on unit trains and so there aren't as many switching engines and crews available in general, and in particular with Amtrak.

What have I gotten wrong?

Edited by Ispolkom, 10 April 2010 - 11:22 PM.


#2 AlanB

AlanB

    Engineer

  • Honored Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 29,379 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Queens, New York

Posted 10 April 2010 - 11:58 PM

Well first off, switching one sleeper off a train to either drop it in a station or move it to another train, doesn't compare to splitting a train in half. If you're dropping off a sleeper, you only need to unhook that one car before the rest of the train can continue on or head to the yard.

In the case of the Lake Shore at Albany for example, you have to cut the train in half, then roll the Boston section forward to the platforms to allow for boarding and discharging. While that's happening, you also get a crew change, baggage moved, and the engines are refueled.

In the meantime, you've got to roll out another engine, attach it to the NY section, before you can pull that section onto the platform for loading/unloading.

Further complicating things is the fact that the new Albany station was designed for 4 tracks, but it only has 3 at present. So the LSL takes up 2 of those 3 tracks. And you have to fit into all of that, the comings and goings of the Empire Service trains.

Now I'll be the first to admit, although they have made some improvements, that Albany was one of the worst places for switch work. They used to take double the alloted time to do anything. Now at least, they take the alloted time. Sadly they do that even if the train is late, instead of trying to get things done faster.

But again, there is a big difference between dropping one car vs. splitting a train in half and dealing with new engines.
Alan,

Take care and take trains!

#3 Dutchrailnut

Dutchrailnut

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,028 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Brookfield, Connecticut, USA
  • Interests:Ships, Planes, Trains

Posted 11 April 2010 - 07:33 AM

A lot of times are just putting on blue light for worker protection.
in short: train arrives, and hep shut off, blue light need applied before workers are allowed between equipment.
next electrician drops jumpers, and split is made.
Now remove blue light protection, and let move be made to set aside the part of train or car to be removed.
If a car needs to be added, you pick up car, let conductor hook up hoses for yard move, or otherwise if Mechanics do it you need blue light protection.
after car is hooked up (with air only) the train is put together again.
Now blue light protection goes back up, next set of hoses is connected, electrician puts hep and communication jumpers in , and asks for hep to be made alive.
Now car inspector needs to do a brake test.
If the new car was pre tested its a simple test, if not, entire train needs to be walked in apply and release.
Now blue light gets called off and train released back to crew.

Edited by Dutchrailnut, 11 April 2010 - 07:35 AM.


#4 Guest_Guest_*

Guest_Guest_*
  • Guests

Posted 11 April 2010 - 09:32 AM

A lot of times are just putting on blue light for worker protection.
in short: train arrives, and hep shut off, blue light need applied before workers are allowed between equipment.
next electrician drops jumpers, and split is made.
Now remove blue light protection, and let move be made to set aside the part of train or car to be removed.
If a car needs to be added, you pick up car, let conductor hook up hoses for yard move, or otherwise if Mechanics do it you need blue light protection.
after car is hooked up (with air only) the train is put together again.
Now blue light protection goes back up, next set of hoses is connected, electrician puts hep and communication jumpers in , and asks for hep to be made alive.
Now car inspector needs to do a brake test.
If the new car was pre tested its a simple test, if not, entire train needs to be walked in apply and release.
Now blue light gets called off and train released back to crew.

what exactly does blue light mean?

#5 J-1 3235

J-1 3235

    OBS Chief

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 466 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:BOS

Posted 11 April 2010 - 10:47 AM

what exactly does blue light mean?

The blue light is used to protect any mechanics, electricians, etc., that are working between the cars or locomotives. It is literally a blue light affixed to the rails, or the equipment itself. It is placed by the workers and can only be removed by the workers. Any equipment with a blue light attached can not move until the blue light is removed. This insures safety for the workers.

Mike

Edited by J-1 3235, 11 April 2010 - 10:48 AM.

156,312 Amtrak miles and counting

85 VIA Rail miles on an Amtrak train

14162 VIA Rail kilometers (8800 mi)

#6 wayman

wayman

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,315 posts
  • Gender:Not Telling
  • Location:Northampton MA

Posted 11 April 2010 - 11:12 AM

what exactly does blue light mean?

The blue light is used to protect any mechanics, electricians, etc., that are working between the cars or locomotives. It is literally a blue light affixed to the rails, or the equipment itself. It is placed by the workers and can only be removed by the workers. Any equipment with a blue light attached can not move until the blue light is removed. This insures safety for the workers.

Mike


I've seen the blue lights in action a few times in 30th St when I've been on the platform during an engine change on the Pennsylvanian. Here's a photo I took of one. Certainly one of my more unusual Amtrak photos, but I left juuuust enough of the Amfleet in the frame so you can tell it's Amtrak ^_^

Posted Image

Edited by wayman, 11 April 2010 - 11:15 AM.

--Will
"I don't care what train I'm on, just as long as it keeps rolling on..."

#7 rrdude

rrdude

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,703 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:No AGR Status anymore... Baltimore, MD Area
  • Interests:I like riding trains, in First Class, Sleeper, or Coach. (If just a short jaunt) I expect courteous service, equipment that works, arriving close to "on time", & clean windows. Is that too much to ask for?

Posted 11 April 2010 - 11:28 AM

what exactly does blue light mean?

The blue light is used to protect any mechanics, electricians, etc., that are working between the cars or locomotives. It is literally a blue light affixed to the rails, or the equipment itself. It is placed by the workers and can only be removed by the workers. Any equipment with a blue light attached can not move until the blue light is removed. This insures safety for the workers.

Mike


I've seen the blue lights in action a few times in 30th St when I've been on the platform during an engine change on the Pennsylvanian. Here's a photo I took of one. Certainly one of my more unusual Amtrak photos, but I left juuuust enough of the Amfleet in the frame so you can tell it's Amtrak ^_^

Posted Image


Or blue "flag"....and with all the safety rules and regs today, it just DOES take longer, not necc a bad thing

#8 jmbgeg

jmbgeg

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,164 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:spokane

Posted 11 April 2010 - 12:20 PM

Why is switching cars out such a complicated thing for Amtrak? It seems to take forever in Spokane and Albany (and St. Paul, now that I think of it), but when I look at "Night Trains" I see that in the 1950s a sleeper going from Montreal to Washington or Boston would be switched 4 times in a night. Heck, when I took the Moscow-Ostend express in 1991 (it was actually just one sleeper car), we were switched between, umm, 5 trains, I think.

My guess is that switching used to be much more common an activity on railroads, so they had crews, equipment, and experience. There were many more passenger trains, and even freight trains would be constantly setting out cars at stations. Now the railroads focus on unit trains and so there aren't as many switching engines and crews available in general, and in particular with Amtrak.

What have I gotten wrong?


Spokane is a service stop eastbound.
jmb<br /><br /><span style='font-family: Palatino Linotype'>Select Plus Traveling the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Cascades, California Zephyr, San Joaquins, Capitol Limited, Southwest Chief and Lakeshore Limited</span>

#9 delvyrails

delvyrails

    Service Attendant

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 84 posts

Posted 11 April 2010 - 01:18 PM

Maybe the respondents have the "trees" correct, but what about the "forest"? The problem may be with the monopolistic, inward-looking, job-perpetuating, we've-always-done-it-that-way, customers-will-adapt-to-us railroad "culture".

Good technology can do things better, faster, and with less hand labor. Has anyone tried to design railroad passenger locomotives and cars that do not require people under them? That should do away with the blue flag/light thing, except for rare wheel/truck problems.

How about distributed power, in the manner of VIA Rail's J-trains that are quickly combined and split?

And there's nothing new about couplers with integral air and electrical connections.

Finally, why must the head-end power die for a half hour or so in a modern transportation context? A temporary platform hook-up should be no problem. No passenger sweating, shivering, or turning off the electronics necessary.

#10 rrdude

rrdude

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,703 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:No AGR Status anymore... Baltimore, MD Area
  • Interests:I like riding trains, in First Class, Sleeper, or Coach. (If just a short jaunt) I expect courteous service, equipment that works, arriving close to "on time", & clean windows. Is that too much to ask for?

Posted 11 April 2010 - 01:46 PM

Maybe the respondents have the "trees" correct, but what about the "forest"? The problem may be with the monopolistic, inward-looking, job-perpetuating, we've-always-done-it-that-way, customers-will-adapt-to-us railroad "culture".

Good technology can do things better, faster, and with less hand labor. Has anyone tried to design railroad passenger locomotives and cars that do not require people under them? That should do away with the blue flag/light thing, except for rare wheel/truck problems.

How about distributed power, in the manner of VIA Rail's J-trains that are quickly combined and split?

And there's nothing new about couplers with integral air and electrical connections.

Finally, why must the head-end power die for a half hour or so in a modern transportation context? A temporary platform hook-up should be no problem. No passenger sweating, shivering, or turning off the electronics necessary.


.....Yah still have to get under / between the cars to conx the electrical and the air hose, no way around that. Integrated air and electronics are just not gonna happen, except with a dedicated fleet, on a dedicated ROW. Too many times Amtrak cars have to be coupled to freight engine, or freight car, or private varnish.....

Nice idea though.

Edited by rrdude, 11 April 2010 - 01:48 PM.


#11 Sam31452

Sam31452

    Lead Service Attendant

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 245 posts

Posted 11 April 2010 - 02:15 PM

Switching is a very expensive process, because you need a switcher engine and staff,
so there are only 2 places in the US where this happens Spokane and San Antonio
At both locactions switching takes place in the middle of the night, which raises costs even higher.
In Europe mostly night trains are switched, but on day trains passengers are required to change trains,
and switching is avoided whenever possible.

#12 EB_OBS

EB_OBS

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,046 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Spokane, WA
  • Interests:Family, PC games, outdoors, and working for Amtrak.

Posted 11 April 2010 - 03:01 PM

In Spokane, the inbound and outbound locomotives do their own switching. The inbound conductors and a contracted mechanical staff "cut" and connect the cars.

Eastbound, usually train 28 arrives first and sits and waits with power until just before train 8 arrives. About ten minutes before #8 arrives the locomotive is disconnected and pulls forward out of the way. When train #8 arrives it pulls past #28 and switches onto the track holding #28 and #8 backs into the #28 section. The entire maneuver usually takes less than about 20 minutes.

Westbound, train 7/27 arrives into Spokane around 1:30 - 1:45 am if on-time. The locomotive that arrived into Spokane as #28 has been wyed and is sitting on a stub track. The inbound conductors and the mechanical crew cut the train apart. At 2:15am train 7 departs. As soon as the #7 section is clear, the locomotive that was waiting on the stub track switches tracks and backs into the #27 section and departs at 2:45am.

Typically this all happens with the utmost efficiency in both directions. There are mishaps occasionally, cables or plugs that break or are frozen or knuckles that won't open or lock, extreme winter conditions when switches freeze etc. Overall though, Spokane is quite smooth an operation.

As far as adding ground power while the locomotives are disconnected, it's just another set of cables and connections & disconnections to deal with and the amount of time the train is without HEP is kept as short as possible. You cannot connect or disconnect 480v power cables live.

When the train is blue "flagged" it cannot move. It's considered safe to move in and around the train while blue flagged. If the train where to move while blue flagged it's a major rule violation and the crew would likely be pulled on the spot.

Edited by ez223, 11 April 2010 - 03:03 PM.


#13 Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 17,143 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Austin Texas
  • Interests:Passenger Trains/Travel/Sports/Gov't/ Politics/History/Reading/
    Movies/Music/Space-Ancient Aliens

Posted 11 April 2010 - 03:25 PM

Switching is a very expensive process, because you need a switcher engine and staff,
so there are only 2 places in the US where this happens Spokane and San Antonio
At both locactions switching takes place in the middle of the night, which raises costs even higher.
In Europe mostly night trains are switched, but on day trains passengers are required to change trains,
and switching is avoided whenever possible.

In my experience the Spokane switching/hookup goes much more smoothly and quickly than the SAS Eagle/Sunset connections even if there is no time restraint in SAS! The crews in SAS seem to move the various cars around several times and the hookups are sometimes very bumpy and rough, also as others have pointed out sometimes the drill sgt. SCAs wont let sleeper pax off the train and pax have come back to find that their sleeper/car was nowhere in sight as the switching crew had moved it away from the station into the yard!(of course it comes back eventually! :lol: )I dont know if this is because of Union rules or what, did notice that the OBS poster from Amtrak mentioned that contract switchers and conductors and engineers do the SPK hookups so that could account for this difference along with the long layover in SAS? :unsure:

Edited by jimhudson, 11 April 2010 - 03:26 PM.

"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#14 oldtimer

oldtimer

    Conductor

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 904 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:rollin along the high iron
  • Interests:If it rolls, flies, or floats I can fix it, certified A&P mechanic, builder and crew chief for late model stock car, I ride a 1977 GoldWing and have worked a lot on vintage aircraft.

Posted 11 April 2010 - 03:29 PM

The use of the blue signal is required by Federal law for all mechanical forces when they work on any equipment. It must be applied ahead of and behind any rolling stock that is to be worked on, if an engine is in the consist a blue signal must be applied to the operating stand of the engine. This is to protect the lives of the employees. It is the only way to protect their life. I can personally testify that my life was severely endangered when an unauthorized person took down my blue signal to make a switch move faster.

As to the reference that making a switch move at night costing more, that is not true as Amtrak does not have a pay differential for night or weekend work. When if was hired PennCentral the Shop Superintendent told me that the railroad runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year except leap year then it is 366. To give you an example my wife, with 30 years seniority, works a lower paying job as it is the only job that she can hold that allows her to use a Metra train to go to work. This is important to her as we live a quarter mile from a Metra station. Amtrak employees will work any shift, any day to do the job and the job must be done as safe as possible. I already know one of the names on the plaque in the Washington station and Amtrak does not need to add anymore!

:huh: :angry: :huh:

#15 Dutchrailnut

Dutchrailnut

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,028 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Brookfield, Connecticut, USA
  • Interests:Ships, Planes, Trains

Posted 11 April 2010 - 04:34 PM

The Blue light requirement by CFR.49

http://edocket.acces...49cfr218.23.htm

#16 saxman

saxman

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,364 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:New Orleans
  • Interests:Trains, planes, maps, and music

Posted 11 April 2010 - 04:35 PM

In my experience the Spokane switching/hookup goes much more smoothly and quickly than the SAS Eagle/Sunset connections even if there is no time restraint in SAS! The crews in SAS seem to move the various cars around several times and the hookups are sometimes very bumpy and rough, also as others have pointed out sometimes the drill sgt. SCAs wont let sleeper pax off the train and pax have come back to find that their sleeper/car was nowhere in sight as the switching crew had moved it away from the station into the yard!(of course it comes back eventually! :lol: )I dont know if this is because of Union rules or what, did notice that the OBS poster from Amtrak mentioned that contract switchers and conductors and engineers do the SPK hookups so that could account for this difference along with the long layover in SAS? :unsure:


The switching in SAS is much more complicated now that they have to remove the sleeper from the middle of the consist. I've never watched them do this, but westbound, they somehow get the sleeper off the Texas Eagle which is the second car from the engine. They also somehow tack it on back of the last coach as well, then hook those to the back of the Sunset Limited. It's the reverse with the eastbound trains. They gotta get that sleeper back into the middle of the Texas Eagle consist.

I'm not sure why they complicated this so much. Back in the day, the Eagle would carry and extra coach and sleeper on the back that would go onto LAX. Easy move right there. Then it went down to only one sleeper every day, but they always put it on the back of the Eagle, even on days that it did not go through to LAX. The down side to this was you had to walk all the way up to the front to get in the diner. Now they have the one sleeper back in front, which makes the SAS moves very complex. Hopefully when I take my trip in May, I'll actually make myself be awake the watch the moves.
Amtrak Miles: 203,395 (as of 9/21/16)

#17 battalion51

battalion51

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 8,114 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:USA

Posted 11 April 2010 - 08:08 PM

Aside from the aforementioned blue flag protections and switching time periods you also have to do a brake test everytime a car is added or subtracted from the consist. So if you change one thing in the consist you have to run a whole brake test.

The Chief
Rail Miles Travelled: 112,496


#18 Dutchrailnut

Dutchrailnut

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,028 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:Brookfield, Connecticut, USA
  • Interests:Ships, Planes, Trains

Posted 11 April 2010 - 08:27 PM

Aside from the aforementioned blue flag protections and switching time periods you also have to do a brake test everytime a car is added or subtracted from the consist. So if you change one thing in the consist you have to run a whole brake test.


not entirely true, if car or cars added were pre-tested only a rear end apply and release is required.
If not pre-tested the new cosist must be walked both in apply and release as I stated in my earlier post.

#19 George

George

    Lead Service Attendant

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 244 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:San Francisco

Posted 11 April 2010 - 11:40 PM

A few weeks back, I indicated that I was going to tell the story of my trip on the CZ westbound in mid-February. I was going to label the post "Above and Beyond . . ." but time took over and I never got to it. At that time, my story was meant to add a dimension to the conversation about the professionalism or lack thereof of the various crew members on the train. However, this thread is an appropriate topic to relate the story, and now that I have speech recognition software, I can make these posts much more easily and quickly.

My story is about unscheduled switching, and please forgive me if I don't get all the terminology correct because I am relating this from the viewpoint of an uneducated passenger.

It was 8 PM on the freezing Iowa Prairie, and I was just finishing dinner with another California couple when the train ground to a halt and all the power went out. We sat over our coffee for about 10 minutes before the conductor announced that there had been an equipment malfunction in the trans-dorm car. They were looking at the situation to see if it could be fixed quickly. After 10 or 15 more minutes, we proceeded slowly forward. Power had not been restored but the cars were lighted with emergency battery power. Another announcement said something to the effect that we were proceeding to an appropriate place where we could make some modifications to the train's consist.

The conductor, assistant conductor, and a third person, who turned out to be a train master deadheading to Omaha, walked through the diner dressed in their parkas, mitts, and snow boots. I decided to return to my room which was on the first sleeper right after the trans-dorm. We eventually stopped, and I watched the conductor working a long ratcheted lever at the vestibule to set the brake on our car. Having done so, he closed and locked the vestibule door and, although I could look out, I was not able to look down and watch the activity on the ground below. The crew disconnected the sleeper and the trans-dorm, and the loco pulled the baggage car and the trans-dorm forward a good 200 or 300 yards. Someone threw a switch and I watched the loco push the baggage car and the trans-dorm down alongside the sleeper and off to the rear of the train. A few minutes later, the local chugged by us going forward again to 300 yards. Someone threw a switch and the loco backed down our track and coupled with my sleeping car. It had its rear headlight on, and the beam flooded our car with very bright light as the loco coupled very gently to our sleeper.

The conductor came back through to the front of our car and released the brake. Then we all moved forward for about 1000 yards, paused, and then reversed down onto the other track, where we coupled with the baggage car. A while later, power was restored, and we headed on our way with the baggage car and the trans-dorm at the rear of the train. Shortly thereafter the conductor announced over the PA, "Well, folks, we've taken the train apart and put it back together again and we hope you enjoyed that little sideshow." The whole exercise took two hours, which was exactly how late we were arriving EMY 44 hours later.

We dropped the trans-dorm at Omaha so that it could be picked up by the eastbound CZ later in the day and we completed the trip to Emeryville with the baggage car at the rear of the train instead of at the front.

I thought of a number of things concerning this incident during the rest of my trip, and perhaps the most significant one to me was the realization that very possibly the safety of all the passengers rested on that one brake set at the front of the first sleeper. We were without any propulsion for I would guess 45 minutes to an hour, and if we had been on the slightest of grades, only that brake prevented us from going some place that might've been very nasty.

The other thing I thought about was the fact that the onboard train crews had to perform these maneuvers in the middle of the night, winter, and freezing temperatures. I don't suppose they were trained as yards personnel, but they obviously knew what they were doing. I don't know if one of the members of the locomotive cab was involved. As mentioned at the beginning of this post I thought of this in the context of some of the comments concerning the professionalism of the onboard train staff. In this instance they were doing things that were not in their ordinary job descriptions involving not only significant mechanical issues, but safety considerations for the passengers, and they did it very well.

Edited by George, 11 April 2010 - 11:43 PM.


#20 rrdude

rrdude

    Engineer

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,703 posts
  • Gender:Male
  • Location:No AGR Status anymore... Baltimore, MD Area
  • Interests:I like riding trains, in First Class, Sleeper, or Coach. (If just a short jaunt) I expect courteous service, equipment that works, arriving close to "on time", & clean windows. Is that too much to ask for?

Posted 12 April 2010 - 07:05 AM

Nice description of the work done.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users