I‘m riding the end of 298, grinding up the long grade to Harris Glen behind two gasping Geep-9s (if it wasn’t for the helpers, we’d still be back in Pittsburgh). My caboose is banging against a pair of fuel tankers and I’m thinking I’m one cigarette from going to the moon. This isn’t Yardmaster Frank’s fault – he’s only following my own generated switch lists. But really, the railroad is moving pretty well and the newbie dispatcher is moving us along pretty damn quick. My guest engineer Paul has everything down. We’re ordered to drop the helpers at Harris, just coming up, and then it’s an easy downhill to Calypso where we’ll drop the transfer cars before running home to Bound Brook.
Looking down the length, past the four head end units, I can see a set of headlights glimmering on the station track at Harris and figure, off the timetable, that this is Train 97. No big deal – passenger trains will usually fit. in the tight confines at the summit. But then a second set of headlights sweep the corner and I realize a freight train in easing onto the siding. I have to shake my head at this – the dispatcher panel has “SHORT” written on this siding for a reason, and if there is anyplace you don’t want to pass freight trains at, it’s here.
I tell Paul to ease the train in down the main, warning him that the opposing freight is likely fouling the east end and that we might have to do a saw by to get around our counterpart. The dispatcher is hollering for everyone to get on the phone, people are drifting over to watch the triple meet, pure pandemonium. We drop the helpers in the pocket on approach then ease down the main, Paul inching our Geeps carefully forward. In relief, I watch first the passenger hood then the blunt freight prow slide past. We clear by about a car length. Everyone breaths a sigh of relief (especially the dispatcher, who is probably sacrificing a chicken to dark gods to get us around). Within minutes, we’ve got a warrant and we’re spanking out way down the spiral tunnel and across the long bridge leading to Calypso. The rest of the run will be a breeze after this.
Well, as long as nothing touches off those tank cars…