On Sheet – Call me!

On Sheet – Call me!

ou might remember the cookie story from a few OpsLogs ago – about how a crew finished up and went off duty and my entire north end of my railroad was waiting for him to reappear (as the paperwork stated) – it’s right HERE. Yeah, two guys stood in sidings at either end of my missing wack-a-mole, waiting 15 real minutes until he sauntered past with a cookie – munch munch munch.

Here’s the deal – in my many years (two decades) of dispatching, if there is one things crews do that drive me nuts – it’s not calling the stations they pass or the runs they end. I guess they finish their runs, toss the throttle away over a shoulder and stroll nonchalantly off.

Happens at the club – I’ll see a guy walk past the office with his train box under his arm, heading for the door, his job done. On the Virginia Southwestern (where the cookie incident took place) it is endemic. There, we have two railroads (L&N and Southern) and two dispatchers. At one part, the lines come together on a short double switch location – the Southern owning the crossing. At another location (Goodbee to Bluejay) the L&N owns the section. Both of these spots are CTC, so the dispatchers set the route. And if two dispatchers work together (such as me and Cody, or me and Tom) the line runs smooth. You ask for rights but he might or might not give permission, yet you know you are in the queue and he’ll give it as soon as it’s free.

So it dorks me off when I ask the Southern for Edison Jct (the Southern crossing), get it, warrant a train across it, then wonder if he’s clear so I can realign the turnouts and give it back to the owning railroad. Recently cameras have been installed and that’s fine, but some of those dispatcher sessions are hectic – I might not have time to spot you through. No time for a roll-by. If I look up and Edison is empty, what am I to assume? Are you somewhere off camera with a derailed train and haven’t moved? Or are you helling your way down the final helix, well-clear?

And crews know these two sections of the railroad are dual trackage. It’s in the briefing. When they come up on foreign rails, they clearly hear the DS over the phone, telling them to hold while turning to his counterpart, asking for rights. You’d think, in that tiny little bean inside most operator’s heads, that they’d call when they’d rolled clear.

Or called when they entered a yard and left the main.

Or reached a switching district and started working.

Or came to the end of their runs.

Or derailed. Or crashed. Or suffered explosive diarrhea. Or were attacked by zombies.

Pearl Harbor was attacked, and even with all those zeros strafing and bomb-flinging, someone was able to radio it out – it was no drill!

Really, the only time engineers call (if they aren’t sniffing up a new warrant) is if they see headlights. And that’s only because they are hoping they’ve brought shame to the house of the dispatcher (when, usually, it’s them not remembering that “Not in effect until the arrival of…” checkbox).

I’ll tell you what – I’ve had (in my many years) engineers who contacted me at locations along the line, keeping me apprised of their progress. While I can’t do it always, I keep track of talent (as Ernst Kessler said in the flick The Great Waldo Pepper). And while I can’t always reward a good crew, well, if two guys call for warrants at the same time and my golden boy is one of those involved, in all likelihood, first paper goes to him.

But it shouldn’t be a bribe. It should be part of the game of railroading. Blow at crossings. Run smooth and consistent. And call off critical control points (or ends of runs) as you clear them.

Things for everyone will run a lot smoother.

A Southern freight takes the lead on its trackage while an L&N freight waits for permission to cross at Edison Jct (Photo: John DV)