Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Trouble on the Train

The "little BN" local BNSF switch job often ties up for the night across from our house when the crew has been out so long (or there is sufficient congestion on the Nevada Subdivision) that they aren't able to get back to their home base in Sparks before their federally-mandated maximum twelve hours of service runs out. (This is known as "going dead on the law," so if you ever hear a railroad crew saying that they are "going dead," it doesn't mean fatal.) When this happens, they tie down the brakes on the train and a contract van comes out and collects them to drive them back to Sparks. (Officially, the moment they hit twelve hours, even if they're waiting for the ride or in the van back to Sparks, they are "on rest," which I think is silly, but that's railroading.) The locomotives generally idle all night long in cold weather to prevent them freezing up, with software on board often changing the idle speed or shutting the units down and restarting them depending on conditions.

Late yesterday afternoon, Lisa pointed out to me that a couple of transients were walking around the parked train (two locomotives and several cars parked on the "house track"). Then they climbed up onto the trailing unit BNSF 155 and opened the cab door and went inside. As we understand it, locomotives are often not locked up because in order to put locks on the cab doors, you'd have to issue keys to everyone who might ever operate them, on account of locomotives are sent all over the place.

BNSF 155 and 108 at Fernley

These are the two locomotives in question, which I photographed two days later while they were switching the House Tracks not far from where they were spotted. I'd forgotten to photograph them at the time of this incident. Also, when they were parked here at Fernley, they were in the opposite order, with 155 to the right.

Recognizing that this couple were probably just trying to find a warm place to sleep for the night, we were still concerned. While we don't think you can actually operate the locomotives while they're tied up like that (there's other pieces of hardware that the crew take with them that you need to make it start moving, generally speaking), it was still possible that they could accidentally do considerable harm either to themselves or the locomotive, and conceivably everyone else if they somehow released the brakes and the train started rolling free. Normally I leave people wandering through alone; that is, I don't randomly get people rousted, on account of I've been rousted myself while trying to sleep in the Rolling Stone, which I consider unjust when I'm parked in a public area and doing no harm. This, however, is trespassing, and potentially dangerous, so I decided to report it.

I first called BNSF's non-emergency reporting number. They told me that because it's Union Pacific property (despite being their locomotives), I had to call UP. So I called UP's reporting hotline. I explained the situation to the operator. He asked for more details on where this was happening. I provided the city and state, the cross streets (corner of Front and Center Streets, which is pretty easy to remember), and for good measure included the railroad location: "Just east of milepost 276 on the Nevada Subdivision, on the 'house tracks' to the south side of the main line." I also provided the UP dispatcher number (coincidentally also 276) in case he wanted to have the dispatcher warn passing trains through the area. The operator seemed impressed. "I wish all callers had their act together the way you do," he said, and told me he'd contact law enforcement. I added, "local law enforcement here is provided by the Lyon County Sheriff's Department," so he wouldn't go looking for a Fernley police department because there isn't one.

About twenty or thirty minutes later, two Lyon County deputies showed up, and as they approached the locomotive, the people inside came out. One deputy spent time talking to them while the other went into the locomotive to make sure nothing was obviously damaged. We know no details about this exchange, but eventually the couple walked away on their own, and the deputies left, closing the door of the locomotive behind them.

This morning, I noticed that the "little BN" crew was back to do their work for today, and I trotted over to one of the crew members (attempting to stay at least two meters away, of course). I told them what happened, in case UP hadn't bothered to let them know, and he said, "That explains why I found half a bottle of whiskey in the cab!" I headed back in, and heard them talking on the radio, and from the conversation, it sounds to me like the crew had not been warned that someone had tried to take up residence in their locomotive.

I don't like being the bad guy here, but this was a potentially hazardous situation, so I felt that I had to do so. And for what it's worth, it may have earned us a brownie point or two from the local crew, who know that we're here, as it shows that we're responsible neighbors looking out for them and for their employer's equipment, not just a couple of "foamers" (or "anoraks" as our British friends would call us). Our home was originally a Southern Pacific railroader's house, and I reckon that he would have done the same thing, although actually he might have gone out himself and told them to leave, as he wouldn't be trespassing by doing so.

Update, April 1: As I'd forgotten to photograph the pair of locomotives at the time this incident happened, I took a picture when they came by on April 1 to switch the House Tracks. Between the time of this incident and April 1, they had been turned so they pointed the opposite direction they were oriented during the incident.
Tags: fernley, trains
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