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Railroad Dispatching

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Railroad Dispatching
Posted by JPS1 on Monday, March 20, 2017 6:38 PM

How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, March 20, 2017 7:10 PM

JPS1
How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

Currently CSX
Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florence, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Selkirk

What will be left after EHH is open to question.  Huntington office was closed in 2016 with jobs aportioned to the remaining centers.  Approximately 15 qualified disptachers ended up on the street after all is said and done.  While a number of Dispatchers have been hired from outside the railroad, most worked for the railroad in any number of crafts Clerical, Signals, Mechanical, MofW, Train & Engine for a sufficient period of time to understand what is involved in operating at railroad.  All Dispatchers with 'short time' seniority in each office are not comfortable that they will continue to be Dispatchers.

All candidates for Dispatcher Training are given a battery of tests as well as a inteview process.  The specific characteristics that are looked for is sound decision making under pressure as well as a demonstrated ability to follow the carriers rules.

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, March 20, 2017 8:18 PM

JPS1
How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

On the other hand, I believe BNSF and UP each have exactly one.

As I recall, a number of the CSX dispatch offices are leftovers from Conrail.  Balt can certainly say with certainty, but I think most of the "original" CSX lines are dispatched from JAX.

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Posted by n012944 on Monday, March 20, 2017 8:22 PM

BaltACD

 

 
JPS1
How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

 

Currently CSX
Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florence, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Selkirk

Plus Nashville

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, March 20, 2017 9:43 PM

n012944
BaltACD
JPS1
How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

Currently CSX
Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florence, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Selkirk

Plus Nashville

Out of sight - out of mind

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Posted by n012944 on Monday, March 20, 2017 10:00 PM

BaltACD

 

 
n012944
BaltACD
JPS1
How many dispatch centers would a large railroad like CSX have?

What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

Currently CSX
Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florence, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Selkirk

Plus Nashville

 

Out of sight - out of mind

 

Understood.  Speaking of out of sight out of mind, CSX has a dispatching office in Canada.  I think it is only one desk, located in Wallaceburg, Ontario.

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Posted by mudchicken on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:05 AM

BNSF and UP have shared satellite facilities at Spring, TX (SP) and San Bernardino, CA.(ATSF) along with the centralized motherships at Omaha and Ft. Worth...

Like decentralized better (more in-touch with local reality), but the control freaks do not.

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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:17 AM

tree68
On the other hand, I believe BNSF and UP each have exactly one.

Sorta.  The UP and BNSF have one major one (Omaha and Ft Worth respectively) plus they have several smaller satellite offices that are joint or co-located offices (Spring, TX, Kansas City, San Bernadino) plus some terminal offices with only one or two dispatchers (on the UP Proviso and N Platte).

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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:21 AM

JPS1
What are the requirements to become a dispatcher, e.g. education, experience, technical skills, physical attributes, etc.?

Depends on the railroad.  Generally a college degree, attention to detail, ability to maintain focus.  Experience is a plus.  Military service is a plus.  Nurses make good dispatchers.

Used to be that dispatchers came up thru the clerical ranks, now most are hired off the street or from non-clerical crafts.

UP's dispatchers are management, other railroads are all or mostly union.

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Posted by JPS1 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:37 AM

dehusman

 

 
tree68
On the other hand, I believe BNSF and UP each have exactly one.

 

Sorta.  The UP and BNSF have one major one (Omaha and Ft Worth respectively) plus they have several smaller satellite offices that are joint or co-located offices (Spring, TX, Kansas City, San Bernadino) plus some terminal offices with only one or two dispatchers (on the UP Proviso and N Platte). 

How much redundancy is built into the system(s).  For example, if the Fort Worth facility (BNSF) lost power for an extended period, would the satellite offices have sufficient capability to take up the slack?  

Presumably all or most dispatching today is computerized.  If the primary computer fails, are the activities being mirrored real time on back-up computers so that the dispatchers can continue to function?

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:50 AM

mudchicken
BNSF and UP have shared satellite facilities at Spring, TX (SP) and San Bernardino, CA.(ATSF) along with the centralized motherships at Omaha and Ft. Worth...

Like decentralized better (more in-touch with local reality), but the control freaks do not.

Experienced both - Dispatching is something only Dispatchers understand.  Local managements don't see the corporate big picture, they only think they do. 

Centralized you, with a great deal of effort, get 'the whole team' pulling in the same direction.  You get a common rules interpertation and application. 

De-centrailzed you have 'separate railroads' goverened by a common rule book that is interperted differently on each 'railroad'.  Additionally, when problems develop at at division change point, there develops a us vs. them mentality when 'negotiations' take place over a telephone - that may or may not be answered in a timely manner thus generating more frustrations between the parties, rather than walking to the other division's management and developing a solution face to face, and in may cases the situation got resolved at the Dispatcher level without having to go to the division level.

In both systems today, you develop a great deal of factual data that seems to be wasted on the corporation as a whole that does appear to utilize it.

The one way centralized is out of touch is when weather becomes a factor - it is difficult to understand a foot of snow when it was 78 and sunny when you came to work.  Those from winter struck area can comprehend the problems, those whose life experiences are all from the South can't.

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Posted by sandiego on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:53 AM

Don't worry about losing power. I don't have first hand knowledge of the BNSF center but UP's center at Omaha has big standby generators, along with power feeds from two different circuits (OPPD electric utility). The center is built in the old UP freighthouse, and is a building in a building and designed to withstand severe storms (tornados). We didn't find out about the computer system (or I forgot the info) but it would make sense that there is a parallel system running at all times.

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 9:06 AM

JPS1
dehusman
tree68

Sorta.  The UP and BNSF have one major one (Omaha and Ft Worth respectively) plus they have several smaller satellite offices that are joint or co-located offices (Spring, TX, Kansas City, San Bernadino) plus some terminal offices with only one or two dispatchers (on the UP Proviso and N Platte).

How much redundancy is built into the system(s).  For example, if the Fort Worth facility (BNSF) lost power for an extended period, would the satellite offices have sufficient capability to take up the slack?  

Presumably all or most dispatching today is computerized.  If the primary computer fails, are the activities being mirrored real time on back-up computers so that the dispatchers can continue to function?

On CSX, each center has backup generator systems that are able to run the full facility, heat, light, computers etc.  At my location there were two generators (tested weekly) and each generator has a 1800 gallon fuel supply.  Each de-centralized location had it's own computer system capable of running the entire CSX Dispatching network.  In normal operations, the Jacksonville computer, runs the entire system, the same as when Dispatchers were centralized. 

Within the office itself, there were several 'disaster recovery' desks.  Those desks could be activated in minutes when an existing Dispatchers desk experienced computer or communications trouble.  Note - each Dispatchers desk requires 3 computers to function properly.  One to access and interact with the CADS (computer aided dispatching system).  One to operate the desk's communications system (radios and telephones).  One to access the corporate mainframe computer system (e-mail and other corporate activities).  Problems with either the CADS or communications computers is cause to relocate the affected desk to one of the Disaster Recovery desks.

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 10:25 AM

Sounds like one central dispatch office is the way to go. That way everyone is on the same page so to speak and there's less regional interpretation and rivalry. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 10:33 AM

Are these computers able to deal with extraordinary problems such as how to deal with recalcitrant mules in a boxcar?Smile

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:13 AM

Deggesty
Are these computers able to deal with extraordinary problems such as how to deal with recalcitrant mules in a boxcar?Smile

For the most part, Class 1 carriers stopped handling livestock before Staggers was enacted.  There are a number of Feeding and Watering restrictions involved in handling livestock on the railroad.

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Posted by JPS1 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 11:45 AM

Thanks for the insights regarding dispatching.  

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Posted by K. P. Harrier on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:49 PM

Slightly off topic, but this might be of interest to the original poster.

Mention has been made of BNSF’s San Bernardino, CA dispatcher facility, that has both BNSF and UP dispatches that work out of that office.  UP’s main DS facility is in Omaha, NE (with many, many dispatches).  But, a security matter and a plus for UP is that BOTH San Bernardino and Omaha jointly dispatch some lines.  Say San Bernardino has no relief for a dispatcher.  A switch (on the CTC arrangement) is manipulated, and suddenly Omaha is dispatching the line.  Eight hours later the regular UP San Bernardino dispatcher shows up as scheduled and the switch is manipulated again, and suddenly San Bernardino’s CTC screen is in control again.  Niffy system!

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 12:55 PM

BaltACD
 Currently CSX
Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Florence, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Selkirk

Balt:  Did NS and CSX ever combine dispatching at Atlanta to mitigate the Howell junction problems among others ?

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 1:09 PM

blue streak 1
BaltACD

Balt:  Did NS and CSX ever combine dispatching at Atlanta to mitigate the Howell junction problems among others ?

No! NS has never centrailized their Dispatching.

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Posted by Norm48327 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 1:19 PM

BaltACD
No! NS has never centrailized their Dispatching.

And in spite of all precautions a railroad may take to prevent a total system failure that philosophy is hard to beat. Redubndancy, and the ability to take over dispatching from a center that has "gone down" is the key to keeping things moving. Placing all dispatchers in Jacksonville, Omaha, or Fort Worth may seem to placate the bean counters but can lead to total failure in some circumstances. If things go down in city X, city y may be able to take up the slack and keep the railroad fluid. It's the same line of reasoning computer specialists have off-site backups.

Norm


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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 1:38 PM

Norm48327
BaltACD

And in spite of all precautions a railroad may take to prevent a total system failure that philosophy is hard to beat. Redubndancy, and the ability to take over dispatching from a center that has "gone down" is the key to keeping things moving. Placing all dispatchers in Jacksonville, Omaha, or Fort Worth may seem to placate the bean counters but can lead to total failure in some circumstances. If things go down in city X, city y may be able to take up the slack and keep the railroad fluid. It's the same line of reasoning computer specialists have off-site backups.

Sounds good in theory.  In practice, if a Dispatcher is not qualified on a territory he can create situations that can take weeks to untangle.  Just because one is qualified on territory A doesn't mean they know anything about operating territory Z.

In my dealings with NS, they have had failures at their office that handles VRE commuters from Alexandria to Manassas and they were dead in the water until those issues were fixed.  I don't know what other territory that office controls, but their comments were that everything they controlled was stopped.

Today, no matter the industry, if the computer fails the activity comes to a stop.  In most organizations there is neither the manpower or procedures available to do things 'the old way', especially since most of todays employees have no idea what 'the old way' was or how it worked.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 2:00 PM

dehusman

 

 

UP's dispatchers are management, other railroads are all or mostly union.

 

It was making the rounds that one Director viewed a dispatcher's job as only an "entry level" to managment.

As to another comment about "common interpretation and application of rules".  Maybe in the dispatcher's office, but not out in the field.  You can still get multiple interpretations and applications.  Enough that on some rules they actually issue how to apply the rule.  When in doubt, call the rules department.  Even then, though some managers have taken umbrage if you call direct instead of running the question up the chain of command.

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Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 2:44 PM

BaltACD

 

 
Norm48327
BaltACD

And in spite of all precautions a railroad may take to prevent a total system failure that philosophy is hard to beat. Redubndancy, and the ability to take over dispatching from a center that has "gone down" is the key to keeping things moving. Placing all dispatchers in Jacksonville, Omaha, or Fort Worth may seem to placate the bean counters but can lead to total failure in some circumstances. If things go down in city X, city y may be able to take up the slack and keep the railroad fluid. It's the same line of reasoning computer specialists have off-site backups.

 

 

Sounds good in theory.  In practice, if a Dispatcher is not qualified on a territory he can create situations that can take weeks to untangle.  Just because one is qualified on territory A doesn't mean they know anything about operating territory Z.

In my dealings with NS, they have had failures at their office that handles VRE commuters from Alexandria to Manassas and they were dead in the water until those issues were fixed.  I don't know what other territory that office controls, but their comments were that everything they controlled was stopped.

Today, no matter the industry, if the computer fails the activity comes to a stop.  In most organizations there is neither the manpower or procedures available to do things 'the old way', especially since most of todays employees have no idea what 'the old way' was or how it worked.

 

 

So true about our overreliance on computers. In some cases computerization has actually slowed things down. "Flying blind" has come to mean doing things without the aid of computers..Funny now how when computers go down the most basic of functions grind to a halt. 

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 3:21 PM

sandiego
Don't worry about losing power.

I have to imagine there are plenty of UPS's (uninteruptible power supplies - batteries) involved, as well.

I worked in a computer center that had a two hour (at full load) battery backup, and many of the servers, computers, routers, etc,  had UPS's on top of that.  Never mind the generator...

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Posted by dehusman on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 3:23 PM

JPS1
How much redundancy is built into the system(s). For example, if the Fort Worth facility (BNSF) lost power for an extended period, would the satellite offices have sufficient capability to take up the slack?

No.  Satelitte offices only have a handful of desks, so you can't have 70 dispatchers working in an office with 4 desks.

Most railroads have some sort of back up system where they can replicate the main dispatching system at a different location.

Presumably all or most dispatching today is computerized. If the primary computer fails, are the activities being mirrored real time on back-up computers so that the dispatchers can continue to function?

Depends on the nature of the fail, but generally yes, but its not a 100% mirror.    You have the data but not necessarily the "plan".  Its like you sitting behind me while I am playing poker.  You can see all of my cards, but that doesn't mean if I gave you my hand in the middle of the game your next move would be the same as my next move.  Its also not a matter of just flipping on switch, there are communications, radios, phone lines, Emergency lines, weather and messaging systems, the dispatching system, etc.  It generally takes several hours to swap over to the new computers and its a big deal, plus swapping back is an even bigger deal, since the inactive system won't have the history when you swap back.

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 5:14 PM

The Cincinnati Railroad Club had a tour of Amtrak's Dispatch Facility in Chicago back in February which I participated in. This was shortly after a power failure disabled their office. We learned that they control (dispatch) the Chicago Union Station and associated track, New Orleans Union Station and its about 4 miles of track, and their Michigan track. Yes, they had redundant sources of power, duplicated computers, etc. but the failure was in the power transfer switch. Every reliabilitys engineers nemisis. Fortunatly, they were able to get restarted in about an hour and a half. Disrupted the morning Chicago commute as the computers control all of the switches and signals. 

Like your home computer, Its great when it works but when it fails, you learn how dependent you have become on it.

When the company I worked for built a new data center, I recommended that we procure diverse routed communication circuits from the phone company between it and our locaton where we processed the bill printing and our HQ. Not long after we were operational, our local telephone company had a fire in the Hinsdale Central Office (CO)  which one of the two routes traversed. Local hospital lost all their phones as well as the village and CO service area for almost three days. I'll always remember my manager (who lived in Hinsdale) telling me, "You didn't have to burn the CO down to prove your point". We lost other circuits and were affected by the multiday outage but were not financially harmed, as would have been the case if we had not done a what if planning. As the expression goes S%*t happens.

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Posted by cx500 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:00 PM

CPR (before Hunter) had the dispatchers for most of Canada in downtown Calgary, but also had a "business continuation facility" out in the far southwestern suburbs.  No idea if it covered all the desks or just the main lines.  I think they switched to using it as the primary office about once a year to confirm the process.  That cost money, so I don't know what happens these days.

Centralized dispatching is good for the managers, but leaves a disconnect between the dispatchers and their territory, and also with the crews.  While they are of course frequently communicating on the radio, that is public and recorded.  Sometimes it is useful to have a more informal discussion.

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Posted by CShaveRR on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:14 PM

The UP, after dispatching operations had been set up in Omaha, set up satellite operations in some of the problem areas on its system, notably Chicago (the office was actually in Proviso), Houston, and LA.  I know that the offices in one of the non-Chicago places (I'm thinking Houston) actually had desks for both UP and BNSF in the same room.  

I'm not sure if they're still distinct, or have moved back to Omaha.  I've heard calls to the "Chicago Terminal Dispatcher", but that doesn't reall give a location.

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Posted by diningcar on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 6:16 PM

Someone correct me if my info is outdated:

I belive BNSF Has a policy where dispatcher are given a (Week or more) to visit their territory and ride with the trains they dispatch.

 

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