Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

More Train Tales

I walked down to the Centerville Train Station this evening to observe the temporary arrangements I mentioned earlier this week. Because of track work between Fremont and San Jose, Amtrak Capitol trains are terminating at Fremont, and passengers for Santa Clara/Great America and San Jose are being transported by bus to/from Fremont. This evening, sitting at platform 2 waiting for a couple of buses was Amtrak 748, destination Sacramento.

I was listening on the radio, and heard that they were being held up because the Santa Clara bus hadn't arrived yet. A woman standing on platform 1 (the station-side platform) asked me if I knew if that was the train from Sacramento. She was waiting to pick up her husband who was supposed to be arriving on the train from Sacramento.

"No," I said, "That is the train to Sacramento. The train coming from Sacramento will be on this platform, and should be here in a few minutes. In fact, I just heard him on the radio passing Niles Junction, a couple miles thataway."

A cremember from train 748 called out, "You folks going to Oakland or Sacramento?" We assured him we were not, and he trotted back to his train.

Besides the need to stick to the passenger schedule, there was another reason 748 needed to get rolling. I could hear on the radio an exasperated dispatcher talking to the crew of a UP freight train that had rolled up to the south end of Niles Junction. The DS couldn't let that train through until train 748 got moving and was through the junction itself. That meant the UP freight had to stand there -- but it was 6500 feet long and blocking at least one grade crossing. There was some back and forth about how the crew should have known they couldn't pull that far up out of the yard in Milpitas if they weren't sure they could go through Niles Juction without waiting. UP gets in trouble if they block the grade crossing for more than ten minutes, you see. Meanwhile, the DS asked 748 if they could hurry it up a bit so he could clear that freight. To his credit, he did not let that freight get out in front of 748, where it would have ruined the passenger train's schedule.

748 headed on out, and as it left, the headline of 747 appeared around the corner. The train arrived and discharged all of its passengers, who started making their way to the waiting buses. The conductor looked at me questioningly. I told her, "Don't mind me; I just was out for a walk."

"Okay," she said, and started walking through her train to make sure all the passengers had left.

Meanwhile, I could hear on the radio that 748 had cleared the limits at Niles, and the relieved dispatcher was able to let that freight loose just in time to avoid getting penalized. The freight slowly started making its way through the interlocking at Niles.

The engineer of 747 climbed down out of the locomotive cab on what had been the leading (San Jose-bound) end of the train and walked back to the tail end, where there is a driving cab car. (If you've ever seen these trainsets, you'll know that half the time they look like they're going backwards because they run in "push" mode. This saves having to turn trainsets or locomotives at the terminals.) A few minutes later, he radioed the dispatcher asking for signals to return to Oakland Coach Yard.

"I thought you terminate at San Jose," the dispatcher said. He must not have gotten the memo.

The engineer explained that normally they do, but tonight they terminated at Fremont and needed orders to get back to Oakland. "We have no more passengers; they're all on the buses," he said.

The dispatcher replied, "Okay, Amtrak 747, proceed on signal indication. But there's a 6500-foot freight out in front of you at Niles, so be patient."

"So we heard. No problem," said the engineer. He turned on the headlights, gave two toots on the horn, and slowly accelerated back the way he'd come, a slightly oddball movement, as odd-numbered Capitols are normally westbound, but this one retained its train number while running eastbound. This wasn't exactly "wrong track" running, although it sort of looks like it because they were on the left track of a two-track railroad, and most American railroads use right-hand running. However, this stretch of track between Newark and Niles is dual-directional, with signals for movement in either direction on either track. For example, the ACE commuter trains stop on platform 1 both inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon. (This is something that once played me false and nearly got me run over by a train as I foolishly ran across the tracks in front of Capitol coming in on track 2 -- I hadn't realized that the crowd of people on platform 1 were ACE commuters, not Capitol riders.)

There was no need to hurry, of course, not with a slow freight out ahead, so the train slowly ambled down to the signal at Shinn. (This is a crossover located before the end of the double-track section -- BART riders between Union City and Fremont pass over it; actually, Shinn has often been mentioned as a good place to build an interchange-only station between ACE/Amtrak and BART, but I don't expect this to ever happen.) Somewhat later, the signal turned green and away he went into the night.

With nothing left to see, I headed home. Not especially exciting, but it's good exercise.
Tags: trains
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