On Sheet – Up Scope

On Sheet – Up Scope

very submarine movie has the guy who loses it during combat. The close spaces. The press of bodies. The loud noises. Usually they need to either gag him or club him before the enemy sonar operators hear his gibbering. It’s a trope.

Not so well understood or experienced is when it happens in an op session. Everyone has had the session where you are having to do a lot of repeated indexing moves and a specific car derails at the same spot every time. Or confusing paperwork. Or other operators yacking right next to your ear, pressing close. Some people are fine with it, and some get twitchy.

Occasionally some people lose it.

I remember one layout where you had to lean in between multidecks, bending and easing over buildings to reach your trains. What made it worse is that there were three stubs (and four industries) in there so it was a lot of work, bent over, reaching in, just a head-banging nightmare. I always got that job because nobody else would do it (I’ll add that that layout was a deathtrap anyway, with unstable benches and irregular steps). I always refereed to that as the “torpedo tube job” and – honestly – hated it.

Sometimes it goes beyond hating it. Some people have bad days. They have things outside the session weighing on them. Or they just have short fuses. And then a derailment or breakaway occurs, one too many in too tight a space and they suddenly shout at everyone around them.

In the book Generation X, this is defined as: Emotional Ketchup Burst: The bottling up of opinions and emotions inside oneself so that they explosively burst forth all at once, shocking and confusing employers and friends – most of whom thought things were fine.

There is not much you can do for they suffer it other than offer a bit of compassion, a pat on the back or a stupid joke. As they say, the only thing you can control is yourself.

And so say it happens to you. One moment you are frustrated. The next, you are yelling and cursing. Major blush time.

But my best strategy is to step away. if you are running ops with a dispatcher, tell him you broke an air hose and will be stopped for a while. Then go into the crew lounge or step outside. Take a minute to get a breather and remember that it is only a game we play, a frustrating, silly game but a game all the same. And when you have your Black Cow together, go in, throw an apology to everyone and go back to work.

I’ve talked to dispatchers who would be angry if a train suddenly parks on the main for a few minutes. Hey, if you are a good dispatcher, you should be able to work around it (real dispatchers do all the time). If you really need the train moved, get one of the guys in the lounge to run under flags (i.e. drive while looking out for other trains) to the next siding. It isn’t the end of the world.

I know it goes against human nature but try to keep from gossiping about it or making the poop-loser feel worse than he already does.Give him space to apologize, and work it into the debrief. If something like that sparked on your session, you want to know if it’s something you can fix.

On my Cuesta Grade, I took great pride at running the trains through San Luis Obsipo on their 1950’s timetable. But a lot happens on the railroad between 8am and noon, packing the room as we all scramble to get the Noon Daylight through. Tempers would fray over this and since it is at the beginning of the session (my “day” begins at 8am) it set a bad mood for the entire session. Then in the debrief, we looked at the what-if of moving the Daylight’s schedule back two hours to noon, running in an open gap. Suddenly the pressure was off and the Nooner became a great “practice train” for newbies. And happily, we changed this before anyone lost it.

So yes, look at an outburst as a debriefing topic. And if you are the one who loses it, just stop your train, step away for a short bit, and play the role of a random event.

Be cool out there.