03/19/2005 Operating Session
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Through Train Operations Return to the Shenandoah Division!

After a four-year long operations hiatus and a three-year long capital improvement plan, CSXT through train operations returned to the Shenandoah Division on March 19, 2005. CSXT Shenandoah Division management recalled train crews and dispatchers from furlough in order to staff the anticipated traffic during operations start-up.

There were ten members of the crew present at this inaugural operating session in addition to Shenandoah Division management. While there were some definite challenges encountered at this session, the overall return to operations was deemed successful by those present. And, upon further reflection, division management has decided the first operating session was a success as well, in spite of some operational issues which cropped up during the session.

Session Highlights

The session started at 1:00 p.m. with a briefing for the operating crew. Since the last session had been held in April 2001, a refresher of CSXT Shenandoah Division operating procedures was necessary prior to the commencement of operations. A new Employee Timetable was issued and important items were discussed with the crew. After this initial portion of the pre-session briefing, the crew reconvened in the layout room for a guided tour of the layout with station locations and Direct Traffic Control (DTC) block boundaries discussed.

With some last-minute instructions for the dispatchers, the fast clock (3:1 ratio) was started at around 2:00 p.m. (real-time) to begin the session. The first train to run on the railroad was the P991, a CSXT Executive Inspection train from Chicago to Jacksonville via the Shenandoah Division. With priority handling necessary to comply with the superintendent's bulletins, this train also made a myriad of inspection stops along the route which caused congestion for other trains on the railroad.

After P991's run, the railroad started to get more fluid, at least until Q420 had a mechanical failure on Rich Patch Mountain which resulted in 36 (of 37) cars running away down the mountain. Once the wrecker crew cleaned up this calamity, some semblance of normal operations began to settle in on the Shenandoah Division.

About halfway through the four-hour operating session, the crew took a break to socialize, as had been our custom on the previous layout. Since this break was the first for the new railroad, management and the crew toasted the beginning of operations and then enjoyed some delicious freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. ;-)

After the break, the crew returned to finish the operating session. There were some more glitches with the railroad, which is to be expected with bringing a layout this large on-line for the first time. Traffic flowed better after the break as some of the backup caused by the P991 was relieved. When Amtrak train P050, the eastbound Cardinal from Chicago to Washington, terminated its run at Roanoke, we stopped the session after about 4 actual hours at 6:30 p.m. and then the crew headed to dinner together.

There had been 21 trains scheduled to be run during this session, but only 13 actually made it out of staging and onto the railroad. Three of the trains tied down on the railroad at the end of the session when P050 terminated. According to the dispatcher's train sheet, P991 took about 4 fast hours to get over the division. The fastest freight operated was Q420, which took about 6 fast hours to traverse the route; and the slowest train was local B741, the Black Cat, which took about 12 fast hours for its run. In fact, B741 went through four different crews during the course of its run!

Challenges of Mountain Railroading

Mountain railroading with long trains proved to be a challenge at the first operating session, especially since management neglected to pay attention to some of the established rules. In addition, the Shenandoah Division superintendent also apparently forgot about some of the discussions about operating procedures with various crew members in the weeks leading up to the session.

There were some important lessons learned, and there have been several proposed solutions presented as well. One of the lessons is to place light cars at the rear of a train rather than immediately behind the locomotives. If this rule is violated, then the likely result is to stringline the head end of the train while traversing the Corkscrew towards the summit of Rich Patch Mountain. There is an instruction in the CSXT Shenandoah Division Employee Timetable #2 about just this situation, and there are many examples of this instruction in prototype timetables as well. Division officials resolve to follow this rule much more closely when staging trains for future operating sessions.

Another important lesson was that long heavy trains with light cars on the head end may actually break away from the locomotives and run away down the mountain. As a result of this particular issue, management has agreed with various crew members to try the use of pushers on all trains over 25 cars long to avoid repeat incidents.

There were also some continued issues with trains heading down Rich Patch Mountain derailing because of coupler slack action and truck mounted couplers. The prevailing theory here is still that long trains with cars having free rolling metal wheelsets causes the slack to bunch. Once the slack has run in, the force of the train is then transferred to twist the truck mounted couplers to the side. As a result, cars might derail on long trains. The crew has decided to try to follow prototype practice from several Eastern U.S. locations and use "pusher" locomotives on the rear end to provide "dynamic braking" to help keep the train under control going downhill. Experiments will be conducted to determine the viability of this procedure.

A final issue discovered during this session was just how long it takes trains to make it over the road, especially if the train happened to be longer than the shorter (28-30 cars long) passing sidings at New Castle, Va. and Laurel, Va. For the next operating session, all train lengths will be restricted so each train will fit at New Castle and Laurel in order to increase fluidity on the railroad, which the dispatchers and train crews alike will appreciate. As the crew becomes more proficient in moving traffic across the Shenandoah Division, this restriction will be lifted for at least the merchandise trains.

Future Operating Sessions

Future operating sessions have already been planned, as have improvements to equipment, the layout, and operating procedures. Operations on the CSXT Shenandoah Division will continue to get better as these improvements are implemented and as the crews become more proficient, but I'm quite pleased with the fact that the railroad is operating once again!

Photo Credit:

All photos in this operating session report are courtesy of R.S. Richardson, who graciously served as the CSXT Shenandoah Division "company photographer" to document the first operating session.


March 19, 2005 Operating Session Photos

The crew toasted the start of operations on the CSXT Shenandoah Division. From left to right are Robert, Marcus, Larry, Tommy, Cherie, Chuck, Todd, Bruce, Rich, Dave, Scott, and Jan.

Overall view of the Connellsville/Winchester staging yard showing the line-up of southbound trains awaiting the return of traffic to the Shenandoah Division.


Overall view of the Wadesboro staging yard showing the line-up of northbound trains awaiting the return of traffic to the Shenandoah Division.


Prior to the start of the session, Bruce explains the locations of DTC block boundaries to the crew.


Bruce makes an apparently humorous point to the crew during the pre-session briefing.


Here's Todd and Rich manning the SD console in the dispatcher's office in "Jacksonville." Todd served as the first shift dispatcher and Rich was his assistant.


Crews are checking paperwork and addressing locomotives into throttles just prior to the start of the session.


Crews in the staging aisle addressing locomotives into throttles in preparation for running their first trains over the Shenandoah Division.


Marcus runs the first train while Larry and Scott look on. This train is the P991, a  southbound CSXT Executive Inspection train, which would cause issues for the dispatchers in trying to keep the railroad fluid. The executives insisted on riding the newly reopened rails of the Shenandoah Division.


Chuck runs the Q420, a northbound high priority freight, through the Salem Terminal by the future site of the classification yard at North Salem.


Larry looks euphoric as he listens to the dispatcher giving him a set of DTC blocks to head south out of Connellsville/Winchester on the B741.


Larry brings the B741 into Covington as Bruce and Tommy watch.


Marcus, Tommy, and Larry observe train operations in the Rich Patch Mountain area.


Train B741, the Black Cat, waits in the siding at Laurel for permission to head south.


Todd and Larry are both concentrating on running their trains.


Todd and Rich watch Q244, a northbound autorack train, as it claws its way around the "Corkscrew" and up Rich Patch Mountain.


Finally receiving permission from the dispatcher, Todd takes the B741 south from Laurel.


Larry has the T386 in the siding at New Castle while waiting to meet Todd on the B741.


Marcus was the second shift SD dispatcher with Scott serving as his assistant.


The rear end of train T386 hangs out of McAfee Tunnel at the south end of the New Castle passing siding.


This page was last updated on 01/01/11.


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