he tale of two trains.
I found myself the sole crewmember of SP train 59, the Night Coast, rumbling in readiness in Lancaster at 11:08pm (which, when the clock sweep hit 12, I notched forward and started rolling). As a first class passenger movement, I’ve got explicit rights over everyone (unless the meddling dispatcher interferes). But he didn’t – I hit Mojave with my black widows pausing at the station while I went inside to collect my clearance (no orders) and to jot my time through in the register book. And then I was off, flying up the Mojave Valley, slowing down for a quick pause at Tehachapi, and then a long dynamic whine down the gloomy slopes through Walong, Woodford and Rowen, just running without meets, an eye to the timetable, hitting the dots. Got my smile as I rolled through the manned stations, hearing the operators call my time in, dead match for what’s on the timetable. I don’t think I’ve even had a sweeter run, slipping down the long rails at Bakersfield dead at 12:15am, as advertized. Of course, as usual, there was a train (second 57) plugging my track and the station operator was talking to him as if he was a child (using short, slow words). And then there was the paper snafu, but I don’t care – that’s where I debark. I got 59 in on time.
My next run was conductor with an engineer named Chris, varnish east, 58, the Owl. This one was also a classic textbook run at the start. The train arrived on time, the swap out power was idling in the ready track, we got the heavy movers (two cab forwards) on the front end, ready to go. Out the yard on time, through Magunden and onto the high-speed arrow-straight flatland dual mainline. We hit 50, rattling along, everything good. Had a meet at Bena and there was 55, right on time. Rolled onto the mainline, with me telling Chris that now that the ranking varnish was past, it would be smooth sailing. Through Illmon and strange, there was a yellow signal. Wended up the valley towards Caliente and then it went to shit. At the head of the canyon, we saw a red signal and a guy on the tracks with a red flag. A local was – can you believe this – switching on the mainline, on my time and my track! I looked at the other operator and couldn’t believe it. You couldn’t wait in the clear for us to get by? This was just a horrible decision. And then, to top it, our lead cab forward crapped out – chip problems. We managed to limp into Caliente more dead than alive. While there, a couple of club techs cabbed in and worked with us. In the end we had to switch the order of the power. And they never ran well together after this. Holding our breaths, we dragged ourselves up the long hill to Summit, every siding filled with disgruntled traffic holding for us. We got in 40 minutes late.
Two runs. Two wildly different results.
More fun tomorrow.
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