Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Beware the Thumper

A couple of evenings ago, I was returning home from a post-dinner walk (I eat relatively early because of the Central Zone time I need to keep for the Day Jobbe at the moment) and saw that "Big BN," the through BNSF freight, was in the Fernley "House Track" (the small 2-track yard they use in Fernley).

Big BN Tied Down at Fernley

Here's a Norfolk Southern locomotive trailing the trio. I don't know the full story, but it could be a unit off lease from NS being leased by BNSF, or else it's paying back horsepower-hours due to run-through agreements.

Was was actually unusual was that the locomotives were all the way into the House Track. Normally they just switch cars in and out, then collect the rest of their train that they left on the main line, then continue on their way. But as I walked by, I could see that the conductor was in the process of tying down the train, setting the hand brakes, throwing switches, setting derails (devices that will deliberately derail any cars that might otherwise roll onto the main line before they can foul the main), and in particular setting the mainline switch that connects to the house track "for normal movement." (That is, trains on the main will stay on the main.) This is a manual switch, but is connected to the system electrically so that the dispatcher knows when the switch is open and doesn't try to route a train down the main.

What was also highly noticeable was the noise. I don't mean the normal sound of an idling diesel locomotive. I mean the sound of what I think was a sick one. The lead unit of these three was making a loud THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA sound, almost like a old single-cylinder vintage engine like those we've seen at the Great Oregon Steam-Up in Brooks. That locomotive sounded like it was in bad shape.

Going inside, I could hear on the radio the crew talking with the dispatcher. The crew was about to do go "dead on the law," meaning that they were at their maximum 12 hours of service, after which time they must stop work immediately, upon pain of losing their licenses. The dispatcher asked if they had parked their train on the main, and they explained that they were so short on time that they had done their set-out and pick-up at Fernley, but then parked the train within the House Tracks. Fortunately, they were relatively short today and there wasn't much waiting in the House Tracks, so there was actually room to squeeze them in there. This made things easier on the dispatcher, because otherwise the Fernley Main would be out of service and trains would have to be routed through the siding, which slows down everything.

A little while later, the crew van came to take the BNSF crew to Sparks. But the lumping locomotive continues. Now Lisa and I like trains, and we're used to train noise, but this was pretty bad. We speculate that one reason why Big BN ran out of hours is that the Thumper wasn't putting out much power, which slowed down their train, and made it so they couldn't complete their work at Fernley and continue on to Sparks without running out of hours.

I had to go to bed, which I did manage despite the Thumper. Lisa says that later that evening, a crew van brought a relief crew to rescue the stranded train. The Thumper finally shut down, or possibly died a final death, just before the relief crew arrived. But problems were not over yet. Apparently the mainline switch got stuck, meaning that the crew had to get permission from the dispatcher to break a seal and operate the interlocking manually, which they did, and which allowed them to leave, but also meant that a track maintainer had to be dispatched to fix the switch and interlocking that protects it. You really don't want an unprotected mainline switch there, not with trains coming through at 60 miles per hour — being unexpectedly turned into the 10 mph House Tracks would ruin your day as well as ours here at Fernley House.

As I say, we like trains, but we were not sad to see (and hear) the BNSF Thumper leave town.
Tags: bnsf, fernley, trains

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