Thursday, February 21, 2013

BNSF to the rescue!

i snuck (sneaked?) out of work early today to catch the 3pm Surfliner from LAUS and got there just in time to see Train 03 (Southwest Chief, Chicago to LA) pulling  into the station. Normally train 3 gets in around 8am, so it was over 6 hours late.

Up in front was a big BNSF locomotive, followed by two Gennies and then the rest of the consist. It looked like one of the Gennies wasn't running (I didn't see exhaust coming out of the top), so i assume that there was a rescue involved.

We don't often see these big freight locomotives in the station, though we often see them racked together in the big freight yard just south of LA.  Wikipedia tells me that BNSF 4590 is a GE_Dash_9-44CW, with 4400 HP.  Not surprisingly, given the obsessiveness of railfans, its picture decorates the internet.

You can see it hooked up to the Gennie at platform 6, at the left.

I would guess that train engineers are like airplane pilots and are qualified on specific equipment. So does that mean a BNSF engineer has to drive the big orange locomotive?  And how does Amtrak call for help? Presumably on a long route like the Southwest Chief, there can be quite a delay if the power goes out in one of the regular locomotives.  I imagine the rescue locomotive chugging along for hours to stage the rescue, but that may simply be imagination run amok.

Incidentally, you can see in the picture below how close the trains are on tracks 12 and 13.  You can also see that the Pacific Surfliner is just as tall as the long distance cars.  Interestingly, however, the Gennies are shorter.  One of the conductors told me that east of Chicago, the tunnels are lower (hence the single level cars, like the Amfleet/Horizon trainset that we suffer on one consist on the Surfliner).  The Gennie can fit into them but the F59s and double decker cars cannot.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is the departure board on time?

Interesting article about the departure board at Grand Central Station in New York:  the times are all wrong.
Grand Central, for years now, has relied on a system meant to mitigate, if not prevent, all the crazy. It is this: The times displayed on Grand Central's departure boards are wrong -- by a full minute. This is permanent. It is also purposeful. 
The idea is that passengers rushing to catch trains they're about to miss can actually be dangerous -- to themselves, and to each other. So conductors will pull out of the station exactly one minute after their trains' posted departure times. That minute of extra time won't be enough to disconcert passengers too much when they compare it to their own watches or smartphones ... but it is enough, the thinking goes, to buy late-running train-catchers just that liiiiiitle bit of extra time that will make them calm down a bit. Fast clocks make for slower passengers. "Instead of yelling for customers to hurry up," the Epoch Times notes, "the conductors instead tell everyone to slow down."

You might call this time-hacking; you might call it behavioral engineering; you might call it comical. Regardless, it seems to be working. Grand Central boasts the fewest slips, trips, and falls of any station in the country -- quite a feat given how many of its floors are made of marble. And given how many of the passengers treading those floors are, despite their grace period, cutting it thisthisclose to missing their trains.
You mean, Amtrak is DELIBERATELY late? ;-)