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Railroad Computer Systems

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Railroad Computer Systems
Posted by abdkl on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 9:33 PM

I'm curious as to what the different railroads used to monitor their rolling stock over the years. Specifically their computer systems. While my immediate focus is the class 1s, but that's because I had very little connection to the short lines. So to lessen my ignorance I'll be happy to learn about the short lines, too.

The "Friendly" Southern Pacific Railroad along with IBM, commenced the Total Operations Processing System (TOPS) in 1960. In order to gain a manageable view of what was on their entire system. The SP, SSW, NWP, and SP Lines in Texas had progressively merged, in principle. But there was no way that management "see" current data of what was where. When TOPS was designed the station numbers (location IDs) were sequential from Portland, down to Los Angeles, including the "spur" East to Ogden. Then LA East to New Orleans, and North to East St. Louis, IL.

The TOPS computer was in San Francisco's headquarters building at #1 Market Street. TOPS went online in 1965 on the Oregon Division and expansion continued down California, across to Ogden, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and up through Arkansas to Illinois.

TOPS was marketed to other railroads. UP's Coin-II system was TOPS, and I helped make coding changes for the Mexican National and British Rail train movement programs.

SP launched the Terminal Control Computer [TCC] in 1973 which tracked the movement of cars within a rail terminal and acted as the front end for TOPS reportings. No more punch cards. And (for SP) no more paper waybills to accompany the car.

TOPS computer terminals were IBM 1050 (punch card) terminals and Teletype (TTY).
TCC was 3270 CRT terminals
Both systems were IBM 360,370…390 … MVS systems

What systems did your railroad use to track car & train movements?

 

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 10:13 PM

As a tourist line, tracking cars isn't an issue.

But if you're talking data processing, there is always "Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony".  Better known as "SPRINT."

LarryWhistling
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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 11:44 PM

Broke in 1965 as B&O Operator at the Shops office in Washington, IN.  The office was a 'cubby hole' right next to the Yard Office.  The Operator's job used teletype to receive and send messages.  Messages to be sent were typed into a perferator machine that punched teletype tape that could be place in the transmitter and sent.  Received messages would punch out in tape as well as print on paper.

In the Yard office train consists would be sent and recieved using teletype - I suspect, but don't know if the consists were sent to some form of computer in Baltimore.  The Yard office clerks used the 'torn tape' method.  The tape that was cut for a received consist would be handled by a clerk and matched with the waybills for the train that had been received.  A strip of tape with the data for the car identified on the waybill would be 'torn' from the original complete tape and stapled to the waybill.  Once the clerk had processed the train the Yardmaster was presented with the waybills and a hand written Switch List of the train (track) to be annotated for the Yard Crews to do their switching.  The waybills (and their tape) would be PICL'd into the appropriate track slots in a rack that was available to both the Yardmaster and Clerk.  When the outbound train was made up, they Yardmaster would tell the Clerk, which track(s) were going to be on the outbound train.  The Clerk would pull they waybills from the designated track(s); remove the tape from the waybill and run it through a 'reperferator machine' as a step in creating a new outbound train tape with the cars reported in track standing order and then transmit the completed tape when the train departs. Waybills would be given to the Conductor of the train.

My next association with teletype was when I worked Haselton tower in Youngstown, OH that had a machine that was attached to a RCA 3301 computer system in Baltimore and had very specific formats to allow the sending and receiving messages to individual stations located around the B&O system.

When I got transferred to Baltimore in 1971 at Bayview Yard the equipment being used was Burroughs.  Recieved data made a paper printout and also cut a corresponding deck of IBM cards.  The IBM cards for arriving trains were matched with the appropriate waybills and a hand written Switch List in the right track of the Yardmaster's PICL rack.  Yardmaster would assign work to crews annotating the Switch Lists for the jobs he desired done.  Outbound moves would be identified by the Yardmaster, with the Clerk pulling the identified tracks and making the train report using the IBM cards from each waybill.  Waybills would be given to the Conductor of the Outbound Train.  The train report would be sent to destination station(s) as well as the headquarters computer system.  The same systems and procedures were used at my stops at Mt.Clare A Yard, Locust Point , Jessup , Wilsmere as well as Philadelphia.

In 1978 got involved in the creation of the Baltimore Terminal Services Center, an operation that housed all the various Agent and Yard Office functions in a single facility that was supported by a Computer Automation mini computer (a box the width of a file cabinet and about six feet high) that had a 10 Megabyte Disk drive with an 11 inch platter the entire drive was the size of a two drawer file cabinet and weighed in at about 400 pounds.  The CA computer communicated with the B&O System Main Frame which was Burroughs at the time.  A PICL rack was constructed for the approximately 400 tracks that existed in the terminal under various Yardmaster's control, each track had space for waybills and IBM cards in cojoined pockets.  Yardmasters remained in the yard offices in the field.  Inbound trains would create a hard copy and a formatted deck of IBM cards for the train. 

Yardmasters communicated with PICL Clerks to request Switch Lists of specific track and then assign switching of those track to crews.  After the crew completed the work, they would communicate what they did with the switch list and report any exceptions to the Yardmaster who inturn communicated with the PICL Clerk who then switched the waybills and IBM Cards in a corresponding manner.  There a lot of teething issues in making believers out of both Yardmasters and PICL Clerks.

The Terminal Services Center form of operation continued at major Chessie System terminals until 1989, when the operation go rolled over the the 'new' CSX Car and Train system which by that time included applications that permitted Yardmasters to perform switching on their own computer screens and book together Outbound trains from their screens.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, September 7, 2023 8:43 AM

Sounds quite similar to the account of a CRIP man at Silvis (Fall 2023 Classic Trains).

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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Posted by abdkl on Thursday, September 7, 2023 11:44 AM

For Tree88: re: SPRINT

I was working the TOPS O.C. desk one swing shift. I answered a call from the SP telephone operator with a call from someone who had a question about the SP telephony network. A gentlemen had questions about renting or leasing time on the SP network. As I had no authority about that subject, I gave him the outside telephone number for the VP of communications office. Within a Month SPRINT was announced. I didn't even log the call into our O.C. log, It had nothing to do with "my job". So you'll have to take my word on this.

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Posted by abdkl on Thursday, September 7, 2023 12:11 PM

BALTACD --
You've described a yard clerk's job perfectly. I joined SP as an applications programmer and never worked a yard office job (training sessions and a few strikes excepted). But my Dad was a yardmaster in Eugene (YDM date 1941) and worked the Eugene Hump. During my bring dad's lunch trips, I always visited the Yard Office (pre-TOPS days). The events you described were the same, except Eugene had been using punch cards from at least WWII. And I only remember the PICL box being used by the hump clerk, so no waybills went -with- the cards going into the PICL box.

Switch lists and Wheel Reports were prepared by running a deck of cards through an Accounting Machine (IBM 402? 407?) which collected tonnage and lengths.

And I was one of the trainers when TCC was implemented. And did feel sympathy for those PICL clerks and Yardmasters when the yard cards were gone.

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, September 7, 2023 1:08 PM

abdkl
So you'll have to take my word on this

No problem.  Many things have occurred over time due to some small act like that.  "Hey, call so-and-so," and the next thing you know...

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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Posted by mudchicken on Thursday, September 7, 2023 11:57 PM

Santa Fe's IBM 360 and 370 systems were around a long time. In Topeka, the 370 had a new building built around it in the 1980's. You still see the BNSF logo on the backside of that beast on the south side of I-70 in town. (DiningCar probably has stories on that rascal)...

Most people do not realize how huge the railroads private telephone systems were in the pre-internet days. (ie... PC - what's that?)

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
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Posted by Erik_Mag on Friday, September 8, 2023 12:21 AM

I recall reading that the SP had the largest private telephone system in the U.S. prior to the formation of SPRINT. I also remember when GTE bought SPRINT from the SP, with a few comments about "GTE Long Lines".

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Posted by rdamon on Friday, September 8, 2023 6:56 AM

Erik_Mag

I recall reading that the SP had the largest private telephone system in the U.S. prior to the formation of SPRINT. I also remember when GTE bought SPRINT from the SP, with a few comments about "GTE Long Lines".

 

Worked for Sprint in the 90's and most of the drawings still referenced GTE Long Lines.  AT&T had the same separation for their local and long distance business units "AT&T Long Lines".

However most of the fiber that the SP laid was 12 count and direct buried so there was a lot of rebuilding going on when I was there.

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Posted by timz on Friday, September 8, 2023 10:47 AM

rdamon
most of the fiber that the SP laid was 12 count and direct buried

When would SP have been doing that?

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Posted by rdamon on Friday, September 8, 2023 11:38 AM

timz

 

 
rdamon
most of the fiber that the SP laid was 12 count and direct buried

 

When would SP have been doing that?

 

 

My guess is the early 1980's given the fiber type and performance.

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