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.