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.


Anonymous said...

In some ways, you are correct in that engineers have to be qualified on certain equipment, however it pertains less to the type of locomotive itself and more to what the locomotive is equipped with (type of braking [dynamic, blended, direct, graduated], electric or diesel, traction motor or transmission, electrical system, main resorvoir pressure).

Basically the freight locomotives are Genesis locomotives with a different body and more drive axles (Yeah, it gets more complicated then that, but we're talking about at its core) and ultimately one engineer can operate either locomotive. That said Amtrak engineers are in some ways more qualified than freight engineers in this department due to different train handling required for passenger trains than freight trains, the use of graduated release and blended braking (Vs. Freight trains which use a simpler direct release and straight dynamic braking), 480v HEP power, and a few other differences. For this reason BNSF actually prohibits their engineers from operating Amtrak trains unless a BNSF locomotive is in the controlling position, and they have to be handled as freight trains in that case (limited to freight speeds and kept in direct release). Union Pacific rules permit their engineers to operate Amtrak locomotives, though they have to have a qualified Amtrak employee present in the cab if they do.

As far as getting rescued by a freight locomotive, it depends on the situation and how lucky you are. There have been cases where the train has sat for 5-6 hours in the middle of the desert waiting for help, sometimes thy can limp along with one locomotive until they reach a point where they can pick up a freight unit, and sometimes, as happened with me once on a Surfliner, there is a freight train with twice as many locomotives as it needs following right behind you when you break down. Amtrak operations has the hotline to the host railroads available to them back east and can call if they need help, or it can be arranged between the crew and the dispatcher (who gets the OK from the various Operations departments him or herself)

I noticed the Spam-bots are hard at work...

IT said...

Thank you, anonymous. That's very informative, as always!

What is graduated release? and blended braking?

yes, the spam is a problem and I've been traveling. But I have pictures, coming soon....