May 2nd, 2018

Pointless Arrow

Meet the Crew

On Sunday morning, I was walking home from bowling after breakfast when I saw something unexpected on Fernley rail siding.

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I got Lisa and we had another look. We didn't want to get too close because it's trespassing, and we didn't see anyone in the cab anyway. The train did not seem to to be disabled. I went back into the house and Lisa went into the trailer.

Inside the house, I could hear on the radio scanner what had happened: a Union Pacific freight train was stopped on the single-track section west of Fernley because they'd set off a defect detector, and the crew was inspecting their train. They could find nothing wrong, and the dispatcher gave them permission to proceed at slow speed up to Fernley. They needed to be very careful, because they were a "key train" (one with more than six carloads of hazardous materials), which requires special handling.

I went back outside, and lo and behold, there was a member of the Amtrak crew walking toward the house. I went out to meet him, and it turned out that he was actually coming to the house to look for us. This was the Reno-based Amtrak engineer who regularly whistles as he approaches our house and waves at us. He wanted to see who we were, and that's why he stopped his train where he did. He had been reading a magazine while we came out to look at his train so he missed us initially.

We walked back out toward his train and I explained that we'd bought the house partially because we like trains, and that we appreciated him signalling to us. I would have gone into more detail, but the assistant engineer on the train called out that he could see the headlights of the UP train approaching, so they needed to get moving. The engineer said he and his wife may stop by sometime. He's based in Reno and works out to Winnemucca, overnights there, then returns on the next day's train.

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Eventually, the train came to a stop. In front of us was a car whose air hoses were leaking pretty badly. If enough air leaks from the hoses, the car can be a "dynamiter" that puts the train into emergency stop.

We went back inside. Again listening to the radio, we heard the crew would replace leaking hoses (they carry spares). This took a long time, and other trains were routed around it through Fernley. They could find no other defects, but speculated that the way the air was leaking was causing brakes to seize up, and that was what set off the detector. Eventually they got all of the leaky hoses patched up enough to where they could continue at something approaching normal speed. Just another day on the railroad, but now we know who our friend on Amtrak is.