Rookie Railfan Questions

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, December 2, 2019 8:00 AM

steve-in-kville
Had several train watching sessions at my favorite hunting spot this past weekend. A few more questions:

1) Do the same horn regulations apply if the train is at a reduced speed? (i.e at crossings)

2) I heard the dispatcher say they had a train that couldn't be stopped or slowed and was warning a train a few blocks ahead that they "had 10 minutes to finish at a siding." Do certain trains have priority over others?

3) This one is petty, but I have all of NS's frequencies in my radio. The channel I hear everything on is labeled "track 3" even though we only have track 1 and 2. Why?

1. Horn regulations apply to all trains - speed will change the location where the engineer will start sounding the required 2 longs - short - long combination that is supposed to end at the crossing.

2. Certain trains have priority within the family of trains.  Some trains have priority because of the traffic they are handling - UPS for example.  Other trains may 'develop' priority because of their location and current relationship with their Hours of Service time, the train has 'running time' to make its destination - BUT JUST running time.  Local freights and Road Switcher working customers that have spurs off the Main Track create impedements to the operation of through trains - they will frequently be held at a 'safe location' until a 'window' opens that will present time to work the industry, they may also be told they have a specified amount of time to complete their work and move to the next place of 'safety' to allow the passage of a through train. 

3. I have no idea why the radio terms you are hearing would be used.  There are a limited number of radio channels available to ALL railroads.  The channels and their locations of use are assigned so that there can be realitively secure communications for the users - secure from the standpoint that if the channel is assigned to the NS, there will not be CSX users in the same area using the same channel for example.  Depending upon a specific location there may be 4 or more channels assigned to a railroad - Road Channel, Dispatchers Channel, MofW Channel, Yard Channel(s).  It is possible that in your location, employees are referring to the Radio Channel numbers as 'tracks'; Each radio channel has a FRA assigned number to it, those channel numbers are common to all railroads.

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Posted by steve-in-kville on Monday, December 2, 2019 8:06 AM
Is it possible that a crew unfamiliar with a route can miss the W-sign and blow a crossing by accident? I've seen it a few times now at the same crossing, but only the one direction. Odd...

Regards - Steve

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, December 2, 2019 9:20 AM

steve-in-kville
Is it possible that a crew unfamiliar with a route can miss the W-sign and blow a crossing by accident? I've seen it a few times now at the same crossing, but only the one direction. Odd...

In the real world ANYTHING is possible.  

Are we talking about trains oprating on the Main track(s) or a job switching over road crossings?

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, December 2, 2019 9:22 AM

steve-in-kville
Is it possible that a crew unfamiliar with a route can miss the W-sign and blow a crossing by accident? I've seen it a few times now at the same crossing, but only the one direction. Odd...

I've seen the engineer accidently blow horn repeatedly across several  "quiet zone" RR crossings.    Guessing it is a new employee or someone new to the route.   They can blow in a quiet zone for emergencies (someone on the tracks).

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Posted by steve-in-kville on Monday, December 2, 2019 10:16 AM

BaltACD

 

 
steve-in-kville
Is it possible that a crew unfamiliar with a route can miss the W-sign and blow a crossing by accident? I've seen it a few times now at the same crossing, but only the one direction. Odd...

 

In the real world ANYTHING is possible.  

Are we talking about trains oprating on the Main track(s) or a job switching over road crossings?

 

 

NS mainline. Two of those trains were on speed restrictions. Hence the reason for the question.

Regards - Steve

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, December 2, 2019 11:07 AM

steve-in-kville
Is it possible that a crew unfamiliar with a route can miss the W-sign and blow a crossing by accident? I've seen it a few times now at the same crossing, but only the one direction. Odd...

In theory, the engineer knows the territory.  In reality, maybe just barely.

Any number of things can make a crossing hard to spot - brush and weeds, buildings, etc.  We have a couple that are on curves with limited sight distance due to adjacent trees.  

LarryWhistling
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Posted by zugmann on Monday, December 2, 2019 11:40 AM

steve-in-kville
3) This one is petty, but I have all of NS's frequencies in my radio. The channel I hear everything on is labeled "track 3" even though we only have track 1 and 2. Why?

It's road channel 3.  It's a way to easily identify diffrent frequencies in a specific territory.  So instead of saying (for example) AAR 45/45, that'll be referred to as "channel 1", while 57/57 is "channel 2", 81/81 is "channel 3" and so on. It's also  how our portables are programmed.  When I go to #1 on the selector switch it is in reality  AAR 57/57  (or the actual frequency of 161.56565656  or whatever).  

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Leo_Ames on Monday, December 2, 2019 3:05 PM

tree68
The cam at HSC is controlled by the moderators.  It is one of a number of railroad cameras operated by an outfit called Virtual Railfan.  

It's probably been a month.  There were two derailments there in fairly short order, and I think portions of each video may have been saved by the VR folks.  As to when they will be removed, it's anyone's guess.  NS probably knows.  Given the traffic through the curve, I'd imagine they're in no hurry.

The Horseshoe Curve camera is capable of autonomous movement and tracking without human intervention I recently discovered.

Someone asked the same question in chat a couple of weeks back, I gave an answer very similar to yours, and a moderator spoke up and explained to me that I wasn't entirely correct. 

And those cars on the ground were there back on October 18th when I visited and looked like they had been sitting at least for a few weeks, so I think it's been several months now since the last stringline derailment up there (I read about I think two in close proximity in the newswire a while back and assume they're remains of the 2nd wreck).

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Posted by Ajsik on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 5:01 PM

steve-in-kville
I've been seeing a lot of tanker car trains lately, both denatured alcohol and crude oil. 

Steve - thanks for your questions and for the replies from all the experts on the site.  I've been a casual fan for some time and I'm learning a lot from your curiosity.

Regarding the above, how are you able to discern the contents of the tank cars?  If they're somehow labeled, I don't know where to look.  If it's based upon the reporting marks, I seem to mostly see leased cars, so the customer isn't obvious.

Also, I've been told to check the compression of the springs to determine whether a car is loaded or empty, but without a side-by-side comparison, this one isn't obvious to me.

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Posted by tree68 on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 5:32 PM

Ajsik
Regarding the above, how are you able to discern the contents of the tank cars?  If they're somehow labeled, I don't know where to look.  If it's based upon the reporting marks, I seem to mostly see leased cars, so the customer isn't obvious.

Find the diamond shaped placard on the car (there will be four, one on each side and both ends).  1170 is ethanol, 1267 is crude oil.

This works for all hazmat.  The usual reference is the Emergency Response Guide (or ERG, or "Orange Book").  You might find an old one at a fire station, or it's available on-line, and as an app for your smart phone.

Another common UN number for large groups of cars is 1075, propane.

Those astute at identifying specific car types can do that, too.

One thing I find handy for spotting ethanol unit trains is that they sometimes will have a "banner" on them for some renewable energy company or another.  Especially handy if I can't read the placards. 

 

LarryWhistling
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Posted by steve-in-kville on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 5:08 AM
I used to write down the locomotive numbers and then go home and look them up. Now I watch for the hazmat placards. I also see a lot of cyro reefers. Maybe a half dozen to a consist.

Regards - Steve

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Posted by CShaveRR on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 4:28 PM

If you're talking the Cryo-Trans refrigerator cars, these are no longer cryogenically cooled.  That was an experiment or fad that flopped once the price of CO2 went up. They're mostly mechanical reefers; some just depend on the insulation for their cooling.

Still, it's fun to check out the cars for the names on the doors.  They used to be pretty much geographic names; some have gone a little far afield lately.  The company isn't above reusing the names from retired cars on the new ones.  The non-mechanical reefers (CRYX 8001-8400) don't have names.

Larry, ethanol is UN 1987 around here.

Carl

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CAACSCOCOM--I don't want to behave improperly, so I just won't behave at all. (SM)

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 5:41 PM

CShaveRR
Larry, ethanol is UN 1987 around here.

I didn't think the other number sounded right - although if one looks up "ethanol" in the 2012 ERG, it is listed as 1170.  UN 1987 shows as "Alcohols, n.o.s." or "not otherwise specified."  The current ERG does show ethanol parenthetically.

Crude oil isn't listed as such in the ERG.  You have to look up "petroleum crude oil" if you don't have the number.

But, this is a good chance to again plug the availability of apps like the ERG and WISER that allow folks to look up the UN numbers when they see them.  You can also download the ERG as a PDF to your computer.

If you're not familiar with the ERG, be sure to read the instructions.  Especially about the green highlighted materials...

LarryWhistling
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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 6:15 PM

As of the last Orange Book I downloaded, both 1170 and 1987 are 'ethanol'.  I think I've speculated that one of these is for industrial ethyl alcohol and the other for 'fuel' alcohol; it's also possible that there are different codes for anhydrous (200 proof) ethanol, which is a DECIDEDLY different material from 190 proof delight like Everclear...

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 7:55 PM

I wonder what special precautaions are taken to assure that 200 proof alcohol remains 200 proof. It loves to drink water, and, if it can get to water, will drink enough to dilute itself to 190 proof.

Johnny

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 10:36 PM

Deggesty
I wonder what special precautaions are taken to assure that 200 proof alcohol remains 200 proof. It loves to drink water, and, if it can get to water, will drink enough to dilute itself to 190 proof.

Unless 100% alcohol is sealed off from 'normal air', it will suck in water vapor to drive the proof down to 190.  To stay at 200 proof it would have to be stored under the pressure of some form of inert gas.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, December 5, 2019 12:08 AM

Deggesty
It loves to drink water, and, if it can get to water, will drink enough to dilute itself to 190 proof.

The other 'half' of it is the considerable exotherm as it acquires the water.  There's more than one reason not to try sipping lab ethanol 'neat'!

Interestingly you could use compressed air as the blanket, provided you have carefully and thoroughly desiccated it.  However, I have to wonder if it makes better sense to ship it 'wet' (as biologically generated, for example) and use something like pervaporation or pressure- or thermal-swing adsorption to get it up to fuel-blending concentration (over 198 proof) in the same plant that does the final gasoline refining.  Back in the '80s this was done with polyvinyl-alcohol-faced membranes, heating the alcohol-water stock to somewhere around the equilibrium pressure of 2-6atm (about 265 F for the azeotrope at the higher pressure) and then flash-condensing the water vapor penetrating the membrane at about 15 F.  I'm sure there have been extensive refinements since then.

Bet Midland Mike has some interesting technical detail on this...

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, December 5, 2019 7:53 AM

Overmod

 

 
Deggesty
It loves to drink water, and, if it can get to water, will drink enough to dilute itself to 190 proof.

 

The other 'half' of it is the considerable exotherm as it acquires the water.  There's more than one reason not to try sipping lab ethanol 'neat'!

Interestingly you could use compressed air as the blanket, provided you have carefully and thoroughly desiccated it.  However, I have to wonder if it makes better sense to ship it 'wet' (as biologically generated, for example) and use something like pervaporation or pressure- or thermal-swing adsorption to get it up to fuel-blending concentration (over 198 proof) in the same plant that does the final gasoline refining.  Back in the '80s this was done with polyvinyl-alcohol-faced membranes, heating the alcohol-water stock to somewhere around the equilibrium pressure of 2-6atm (about 265 F for the azeotrope at the higher pressure) and then flash-condensing the water vapor penetrating the membrane at about 15 F.  I'm sure there have been extensive refinements since then.

Bet Midland Mike has some interesting technical detail on this...

 

As to drinking that which is the lab, the little bit that was in the analytical lab at my college had a piece of sodium wire (to react with any water) and had a layer of benzene on top (to keep air away). A lovely cocktail?

Johnny

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Posted by steve-in-kville on Thursday, December 5, 2019 7:57 AM
Who takes the "track orders" from the dispatcher, the conductor or engineer?

Regards - Steve

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, December 5, 2019 8:35 AM

steve-in-kville
Who takes the "track orders" from the dispatcher, the conductor or engineer?

Per CSX Rules - the individual copying the order cannot be at the controls of a MOVING train.  Normally that will have the Conductor copying the order.

In the case of Amtrak or other passenger operators that operate Engineer only in the cab - either the Conductor will be brought to the head end to copy the order or the Engineer can copy the order while the train is stopped at a station stop.

In either case - if the point of restriction that the order is being issued to protect is within 5 miles of the train's location, the train must be stopped for the order to be copied by either party.

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Posted by steve-in-kville on Thursday, December 5, 2019 8:45 AM

I'm sorta fascinated with the track orders.... asking them to check certain boxes, giving initials of the dispatcher and such. Would love to learn more about what it all means.

Regards - Steve

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, December 5, 2019 9:39 AM

steve-in-kville
I'm sorta fascinated with the track orders.... asking them to check certain boxes, giving initials of the dispatcher and such. Would love to learn more about what it all means.

The NORAC Form D is readily available on-line.  CSX's EC-1 may be.  GCOR warrants may be as well.

In the case of a Form D, the way we usually use it in "dark" territory, it goes something like this, with the dispatcher dictating and the appropriate crew member writing:

"Form D number L123.  Current Bulletin Order 8-91, Today's Date is December 5, 2019.

"To: C&E ABC Extra 1234 at Podunk.

"Circle Line 2, operate in a North direction on the Podunk Hollow track between Podunk and North Podunk.

"Dispatcher Smith."

The employee then reads the information back exactly as dictated, at which time the dispatcher confirms the good read and issues the "time effective."  The employee also repeats that back.

You'll notice on the printed Form D (and other such forms) that there is a wide variety of information that could be provided.  Slow orders, miscellaneous instructions, even instructions for rescuing a disabled train.  

A train already underway may receive a Form D for a newly declared slow order.

Only the lines that have been circled (the number of the line is circled, not the whole line) are in effect.  Everything else is ignored.

A "one way" Form D is fulfilled once the destination stated is reached.  It is no longer valid.  The dispatcher is notified when the destination is reached.

In our case, we are often issued "both ways" forms so we can make our local trips (out and back) without having to get multiple forms.  Those have to be cancelled using a procedure similar to the issuance.  

In both cases, a large X is drawn across the form.

You'll notice space for additional track to be given below the initial Line 2.  This will be used for a following train.  Once the lead train calls clear of a block station, milepost, or other recognized point, the following train will be given an "additional Line 2" from the point of their last authorization to the new point, without copying a complete new form.

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

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