OpsLog – VSW – 4/15/2023

OpsLog – VSW – 4/15/2023

here are a thousand (well, maybe a hundred) stories that happen in the usual ops session. Since I’m sealed away in the dispatcher’s office, I only see a handful of them. I do know about the Post Switcher leaving Norton Yard and working for a half hour on my mainline (that from the superintendent). And there is that train out of Erlanger that came up the super collider helix at a high rate of speed, blowing out of the topside tunnel portal like a bullet from a rifle, overrunning his authority limits and nearly torpedoing an L&N train crossing the shared interchange (that from the cameras). But I do have my own favorite story  of the day.

To set the stage – the Virginia SouthWestern is a busy railroad with two mainlines (the L&N and the Southern) with two dispatchers. The lines run independently except where they cross  (one short interchange at Edison, Southern rail, and a long stretch down a river valley, L&N iron). The L&N desk is very busy (it can break lessor men). The Southern is sleepy (with time on his hands, we give him the interchange CTC board to work). I did Tom Wilson a big favor and let him run the L&N. For me, it was “Dispatchers on Holiday” – I just kicked out some warrants, worked the CTC board and watched the fun on the cameras. So yeah, easy day.

But my moment came late in the session. I’d only moved a literal handful of trains about (does that unwarranted Post Switcher even count?). The problem was, the signup sheet had a “bomb line” where all trains above the line must absolutely run before we work the rest of the list. From what I heard tell, someone signed up for the last Southern train above the bomb line and then (nerve failing, perhaps?) erased their name. By now, everyone was working down the list and my critical hotshot autoparts train was languishing in Erlanger, unrun and unloved.

The Superintendent frowned when I mentioned it and I realized it really needed to run. Went out into the crew lounge and found Kyle relaxing after a couple of L&N runs, looking like Oddball, the tanker in Kelly’s Heroes, relaxing in a cafe, eating wine and cheese with his broken Sherman tank. I did my Clint Eastwood part with him, dragging his easy-going ass onto the running board of the parts train and getting him on duty. Then I went back to my panel and got him moving.

If you don’t like coal, don’t come. (Photo: Chris S)

And then it was classic dispatching. I reached out to the Ghost Post Switcher and got him to clear into a spur at Capps.The parts train was picking up speed, coming up behind him, rattling across the frogs at Edision. Meanwhile, up the line, I had a southbound freight (who was dragging along doing scattered setouts and pickups) go into the hole at Norton interchange. The parts overran him there (actually, it would have been a thrillingly clean pass but a turnout didn’t throw, but hey, I’d set the scene). With him flying down the main, ticking off the towns, I found a hole in the L&N traffic on their Goodbee pass and cleared the hotshot through – he didn’t even bleed air as he shot the gap. And then he was through Cawood and rattling south towards Citico, making up time by the bucketful.

In looking at the train sheet, I got him across the division in 25 minutes, which is a land-speed record for coal country ops. Man, that gave me a glow. So yes, a very good day indeed.

So thanks to our host, John Wilkes, and the five other guys from Orlando N-trak that made it, and all those west coast runners who topped the ranks. Great time, good enough to make the I-4 disaster (two wrecks and a two-and-a-half hour drag home) worth it. I was on the law with the wife after that.


John Wilkes faithfully modeled this mobile tipple from years of reference trips to the coal fields. Amazing work! (Photo: Chris S)