OpsLog – FEC – 5/23/2015

OpsLog – FEC – 5/23/2015

think the wisdom of getting older comes from learning what not to do. You learn from mistakes, and tell yourself never to repeat them. Like today, when I’m talking to Ken (the host) before the running of his Florida East Coast, a neat railroad with all sorts of fun runs on it and a dispatcher panel that is second to none.

The mistake?

Robert (pontificating): “Well, Ken, I love running all jobs on a railroad, and I feel I’m good at all. No, if there is one job I don’t seek out, it’s working the yard.”

Ken (smiling): “You’re on yard today.”


My discomfort is one of chaos-aversion: most yards have a yardmaster (and maybe a hapless footplater) working everything. You break down trains. You build trains. You cherry pick cars. You service the engine. And everything is a big interruption. It’s very easy to find yourself mired in a packed yard and inbounds whistling at the yard limits sign.

But the FEC yard is neatly compartmentalized. There is a three man (well, sometimes women) crew. The hostler works the turntable, moving trains off the inbounds, setting new ones up on the outbound tracks and spotting the thirsty monsters to the fuel track. Trim (my job) is very focused – I pull the next train card, checking the consist needed. Then I use my switcher to assemble the train in the order required, pushing it over to the outbound track behind the readied motive power. Then there is the classification guy – he’s the yardmaster who breaks down inbounds, sorting their cars onto the tracks I’ll later pull from. He also calls the crews for readied trains, and advises the dispatcher when moves are ready to roll.

And we had it down today. Hostler, trim and classification were breaking and shaking in Hialeah, getting things done. At one point, four ready trains were idling on the outbound tracks, ready to go. But our high point came twice, when I was building a train, looking for a specific car type, and one came in on the latest inbound. There it was, that car I needed. I called over to classification and while he rolled past my turnout, he cut the car loose. Like a trapdoor spider, I snatched it up, added it to the cut, and had it in the consist in less than a minute. That’s fast turnaround – no sitting around the yard for that car, no. Right back out.

So we had fun. I’m not sure what sorts of dilemmas occurred with dispatching and the road crews. I wasn’t part of that. What happens in Hialeah stays in Hialeah. Everything else is backdrop.