t’s been a while since I operated on John Wilkes’ L&N layout. It’s a double dispatcher delight – two DSers sitting shoulder to shoulder, one for the L&N, one for the Southern, working together to get trains over shared trackage across the dual division. Of course, as the Prince of Dispatching (let’s not think about that unfortunate event with two dozen dead passengers in a tunnel a few weeks back) I was expecting to be invited to dispatch. Walked into my usual place in the dining room – there was the magnetic board, the warrant pad, the train sheets. And…
John sat down with Ken Farnham (my Southern counterpart) and me to go over it. Turns out that the heavy-use shared track through Goodbee, the Southern section with L&N Trackage rights, and two troublesome sidings had all been CTCed (meaning the turnouts were directly controlled by the dispatchers and not the crews on the ground).
Okay. So it’s a little weird – it’s like having to do certain things twice – some track is controlled by warrants AND CTC. Actually, as I write this, I now realize that I should handle those as if they have BEGIN/END CTC signs up and not worry about writing specific main/siding info for them. But hey, we found this new system in place so we were going to give it a try.
The first weird thing noticed was when one looked at the magnetic marker board, the two sections CTCed were in reverse order in their side-by-side presentation on the screen. In other words, the CTC piece on the left side of the magnetic board was on the right side of the monitor and vice-versa. This sounds like prima donna whining until you find yourself moving six trains from siding to siding, mentally keeping track of who has rights to what, who is going where, and there are three guys holding on the phone for you. Yeah, the L&N side can get pretty busy (wrote sixty-seven warrants and moved twenty-six trains over the road). Just looking at the wrong place is a momentary distraction that can mentally trip you.
But the real crazy thing was that the areas displayed were backwards in their presentation. On the board, left is north and right is south. In the CTC display, it is reversed. So that means that a train moving to the right on the board enters the CTC display on the right, moving left. Pat your head, rub your belly, you know? It turns out that the superintendent and chief programmer (railroad admin wonks) hadn’t looked at the magnetic board when laying this all out. I struggled with it for about five minutes and sent a train down the wrong line (weren’t those Southern stations surprised to see an L&N move rumbling down the line). After that, I averted my eyes from the magnetic panel and focused on the train sheets, running 100% off them. That seemed to help.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, and certainly not worth three whiny paragraphs. On the plus side, we didn’t have ANY overruns in Ramsey this time. Nobody took the wrong track or cinder-chinned on a turnout. And did I ever get a warm and fuzzy when I managed to get two trains to lap-siding past each other (virtually on the roll) through Goodbee (even better, since they were throttled by the superintendent and the Software Designer). Yeah, that’s one of those moves you dream of – I even got to watch it unfold on the monitor.
And what can I end this with? Next time, I’ll know how to use the remote monitors to clear turnouts behind trains (I wasn’t sure what I was looking at with that big bank of views). And I’ll have a better understanding of the panel (which, I have been assured, will be turned right-way-round by then).
But that’s the L&N for you – better and better, every session.