A query on switchers and their use --one night in Buffalo

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A query on switchers and their use --one night in Buffalo
Posted by Miningman on Monday, February 19, 2018 11:23 PM

Discovered a well laid out document on the passenger trains handled during the month of September in 1954 at New York Central's Buffalo Central Terminal. 

It documents the arrivals and departures of passenger trains between the hours of 9:15 pm ( 21:15) and 4:30 am, a span of seven hours and fifteen minutes.

There are 17 Eastbound trains and 15 Westbound trains handled during this time period. 

The Eastbound arrivals pick up a total of 20 sleepers and off of 2 of the trains a number of coaches.

They drop off 21 sleepers, 1 lounge, 2 diners and off 2 of the trains a number of coaches.

4 Eastbound trains are terminated and 3 have no switching at all.

The Westbound arrivals pick up 15 sleepers, 3 lounges, 1 diner and a number of coaches off one of the trains.

They drop off 22 sleepers, 1 lounge, and off 2 of the trains a number of coaches.

1 Westbound train is terminated and 4 have no switching moves. 

The totals altogether are 78 sleeper's switched, 5 lounge cars, 3 diners and off of 4 of the trains a number of coaches.

Thats over 90 cars switched out of passenger consists in 7 1/2 hours. I am fully assuming that this was still when the Central assured very smooth and unruffled very gentle switching moves in the middle of the night for the sleeping passengers. In all manner of weather. 

This seems very hectic and busy, a lot of hustle and bustle, skill, accuracy and perfection of exactly what goes where and when.

So my question after all this is--How many switchers would be at the ready to handle this task during this shift 9:15pm to 4:30 am. In 1954 it is probable they are Diesels, at least some of them, but perhaps some 0-6-0s and 0-8-0's hanging around. How did they go about pulling this off? There must have been, how many? switch crews and locos at the ready with orders in hand with zero foul ups. This is simply something we do not see any longer. 

Just some thoughts and comments --I also think by Sept 1954 the Central was experiencing heartbreak over their efforts as such a well orchestrated and demanding performance every night, just in Buffalo alone, was showing all the signs of dying and for a time now. Incredible effort and dedication to keep it alive.

I was around, saw something similiar in Toronto, but was not sophisticated enough yet to understand the important role of the Switchers in keeping it all fluid. There were always a lot of switchers around the CPR and CNR tracks at the ready, coming and going.

I was fortunate enough, for the time period, early 60's,  a person could walk beyond the platform and venture into the lead tracks, coach yards and roundhouses and poke around. Never got into any trouble, never did anything stupid, was mindful, roundhouse guys were very nice to me. Sure as heck can't do that today. 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by wanswheel on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 2:14 AM

All of the above plus 2 Centuries (not these), which intactly shuffled through.

http://www.albanyinstitute.org/details/items/eastward-westward.html

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 10:25 AM

That depiction was one of the finest and most iconic image of the railroad era. Have a print framed and hanging for a long time now and still never tire of taking a time out and looking at it or explaining it to others. There were other depictions in that series as well but the Buffalo station with its rounded platforms, the Terminal Tower in the background and the mighty but beautifully proportioned Hudson was my fav. 

...and of course the EB and WB Centuries required no switching at all, so that gave the switching crews and loco's a break. 

Must have been quite a silent stir when the Centuries pulled in. 

However....I would still like to know from someone who is knowledgable enough about operations circa 1954 how many switchers and crews  were at the ready during this one time period and presumably around the clock. It just seems like a very complicated and delicate piece of railroading. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 2:16 PM

Not knowing the layout of facilities at Buffalo it is difficult to correlate that level of switching into the number of yard crews.

The basic guess would be one crew handling EB switching and another crew handling WB switching.  A stationmaster or yardmaster would be on site to direct the moves to be made by the crews and to interact with the train dispatcher and/or operator to have the proper switches and signals lined for each move when necessary not to mention having car inspectors in place to complete coupling of the steam lines and safety chains on some of the older equipment.

         

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 4:40 PM

Well thanks Balt. 

32 Passenger trains in total of which 7 have no switching moves. (Obviously 2 of them are the WB Century and the EB Century.)

So where do you put everything? I tell ya, if I tried this on my model railroad things would get fouled up for sure...these cars come off..ok..then put them over there Ok..here comes an EB and 5 minutes later a WB..more cars coming off, some cars going on, put those there, tack these onto that one...in no time I would have a mess on my hands and not sure where the cars I took off first time, oh yeah, over there and they go on this one, then another 2 trains are due in in 10 minutes. Like what? I give up! If I had help they better know what they are doing and better communicate very well. 

Just do not know if this occurs any longer in North America anywhere. Commuter trains are different, you are not taking off sleepers and lounges and putting on others but I'm sure things are pretty hectic before the big rush starts. 

I wonder, perhaps foolishly, but has there ever been a case of a sleeper, diner, lounge, or coach mistakingly put on the wrong train? Over 90 cars a night, translate that into 24 hours, maybe 270 drops and add ons. Day in day out ( less on Sunday ok fine) but there are Extras and Second Sections frequently.

Sleeping car patron- "Excuse me, what time are we do in to Massena?"

Conductor--" Massena? We are Chicago bound and due into Cleveland in 20 minutes!"

Sleeping car patron-- "But this is the Massena Pullman sleeper"

Conductor--"Well so it is! Oops, dog gone Gord did it again"

So Balt--would you say that one crew EB and one WB would be dedicated exclusively for these moves over that time period. In your opinion would you consider this busy? Surely things must go wrong here and there, putting on extra time constraints and pressure.

This has to be a flawless perfect performance day after day, all the time.

 

 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 7:38 PM

My understanding is that there is still intermediate sleeper switching at Albany/Rensselear, Spokane and San Antonio.

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:27 PM

MidlandMike

My understanding is that there is still intermediate sleeper switching at Albany/Rensselear, Spokane and San Antonio.

 

Yes, in all three cities coaches and sleepers are switched. 

In Spokane the lounge car also is switched, running Chicago-Portland along with the Portland sleeper and at least one Portland coach.

In San Antonio, the Texas Eagle sleeper and coach(es) are combined with/separated from the Sunset Limited.

In Rensselaer, a Boston sleeper and at least one Boston coach are added/taken off. There was a time when passengers from/for the old B&A had to change because for some reason the cars could not be switched.

Johnny

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 9:39 PM

Well that's all well and fine but in Buffalo over 90 cars are switched and thats in just one 7 1/2 hour time period....I'm interested in the planning and logistics of this, how many tracks did they use? How many switchers? ...I can only assume the number may have been even a bit larger a few years earlier, say 1946 or '48. Also imagine there were a lot of extra movements during the war years. 

Perhaps I am way off the mark here and no one gets what I'm asking...Balt says one Switcher and crew for each WB and EB..OK, thats good...arethey dedicated only to the passenger trains?, is this considered really busy...seems like a hectic schedule to me. 

Maybe the NYC Historical Group would have a good handle on this.

My thoughts are 2 loco's/ crews in each direction and a floater to assist during jammed up times and handle the terminated cars. There is no mention of mail and express, not sure if there are add on's and drop off's as well. Perhaps just unloading and transferring. 

When you think of all the people involved from ticket agents and baggage room guys, stationmasters and trainmsters, cleaning crews and red caps, it's no wonder the passenger trains lost money, especially after the mail and express were gone and the appeal and necessity of travelling by train vanished. You got to give credit to the big guys like Central and Pennsy. 

Late breaking NEWS FLASH!

Private mailed Wanswheel about my dilema and he came up with this!!!



The Buffalo Shuffle by Bob Chambers, Classic Trains, Fall 2005. "Each night in 1949, the New York Central performed miracles at Buffalo Central Terminal, where switch crews juggled nearly 100 cars among 30 passenger trains. With a special foldout car-routing diagram."
Ask and ye shall receive!!

 

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, February 22, 2018 7:56 AM



The Buffalo Shuffle by Bob Chambers, Classic Trains, Fall 2005. "Each night in 1949, the New York Central performed miracles at Buffalo Central Terminal, where switch crews juggled nearly 100 cars among 30 passenger trains. With a special foldout car-routing diagram."
The saying goes " All Trains change in Chicago" however back then "All trains switch in Buffalo"

 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, February 22, 2018 10:16 AM

Miningman

Just do not know if this occurs any longer in North America anywhere. Commuter trains are different, you are not taking off sleepers and lounges and putting on others but I'm sure things are pretty hectic before the big rush starts. 

I'll agree that consists are not changed but the south end of Chicago Union Station still gets pretty hectic during afternoon rush.  Trains are departing within minutes of each other and the next batch of trains is waiting on the approach tracks to get to their assigned tracks as they are vacated by the prior departure.  There are also a handful of inbound runs which arrive and the engineer swaps ends for a departure 15-20 minutes later.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, February 22, 2018 1:12 PM

The Buffalo shuffle was not all that smooth.  Many, if not most, of the passengers sleeping in the switched cars were awakened, and some in the adjacent cars as well.

Speak from experience and from an article in Trains or Classic trains some years back.

The PRR did about the same amount, or at least the same order of magnetude, at Harrisburg, with less banging around.   Usually slept through that unless deliberately awake to view the engine change.

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, February 22, 2018 1:22 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH--Chicago did come to mind. No doubt the commuter rushes are very busy and frantic in their own way. I'm sure the dispatchers are more like air traffic controllers for a while each day. 

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Posted by Miningman on Thursday, February 22, 2018 11:41 PM

Dave K.-- I've read accounts both ways of rough handling and then easy handling in Buffalo. I thought perhaps the article that you reference ( likely Fall 2005 Classic Trains)) had a bit of bias written in it, but you say you experienced it first hand as being quite rough and jolting. 

Always thought that strange because the NY Central was very mindful of it's customers but perhaps they had thrown in the towel at that point and the heck with it. 

I've experienced some pretty jarring moments myself whilst tucked away in my bed, a hard jarring that wakes you up and then a smooth motion of which it was difficult to fiqure out which way one is going, followed by other different motions and then another sudden jolt. Some on CNR and CPR, more on Amtrak and VIA. 

When you are in that in-between zone between sleep and stupidly awake its all a bit confusing. Its fun though, part of it all, and I always felt pretty darn cozy sleeping on the train in a bed. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, February 23, 2018 7:52 AM

When it comes to handling - remember the hierarchy of crews working jobs is a function of seniority and the luck of the extra board.  In the normal course of events crews start out in freight service and only after a extended period of time will they gain sufficient seniority to the passenger jobs - a smooth and safe coupling in freight service is a bone jarring coupling when there are human beings involved rather than a carload of hog or sheep - humans complain, livestock don't and the other freight 'products' have no voice.

When regular crewmen, all capacities, are off for vacation, sickness, injury or for any of 1001 other reasons those positions get filled by who ever is head out on the Extra Board and they MAY never have handled passenger operations before.

Freight crews are taught that 4 MPH is the 'safe coupling speed'.  To someone in a Pullman, 4 MPH would shift them from one end of the bed to the other - in a heartbeat.  Safe coupling speed for occupied passenger cars is well below 1 MPH.  And while the engineer may know this - the brakeman guiding the move to the coupling may not have that right timing of the 'that'll will do' stop signal.  Just because the brakeman signals stop, doesn't mean the stop is instanteous and if misjudged, a hard coupling results.

Proper seamless switching of occupied passenger equipment does require the highest level of the arts of railroading from all the parties involved.

         

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Posted by Miningman on Friday, February 23, 2018 8:29 AM

Thanks Balt-- These moves cannot be easy and I'm absolutely certain require a high level of dedication and skill. 

As stated in the original post " Thats over 90 cars switched out of passenger consists in 7 1/2 hours. I am fully assuming that this was still when the Central assured very smooth and unruffled very gentle switching moves in the middle of the night for the sleeping passengers. In all manner of weather. 

This seems very hectic and busy, a lot of hustle and bustle, skill, accuracy and perfection of exactly what goes where and when."

You cannot expect the same people day in and day out to make these moves. Your explanations are right on. 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, February 23, 2018 10:07 AM

As an aside, smooth switching of consists still occurs.  My wife and I took Amtrak circle tours the last two summers and we both managed to sleep through Spokane both times as the "Empire Builder" was split into Seattle and Portland sections.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, February 23, 2018 10:36 AM

I have slept through Spokane, San Antonio, and Jacksonville switchings--and I have been awakened in Indianapolis when cars going back to Chicago were being added to the Cardinal

And, I have been irritated in Denver when private cars were being added, in broad daylight, to #17--I do not remember how many tries it took to make the joint.

Johnny

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Posted by SD70Dude on Friday, February 23, 2018 10:47 AM

Deggesty

I do not remember how many tries it took to make the joint.

Sometimes those darn pins just won't drop.  Hope they at least lined the drawbars up properly first!

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, February 23, 2018 11:05 AM

SD70Dude

Yes, we were going straight back. Sticky pin on the lead private car? It was quite a bump each time.

 
Deggesty

I do not remember how many tries it took to make the joint.

 

 

Sometimes those darn pins just won't drop.  Hope they at least lined the drawbars up properly first!

 

Johnny

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