Every railroad man is full of stories, and loves to tell them. I'm no exception, so this page is reserved for my stories.
SOLUTION TO THE PUZZLE FROM ISSUE 54
A and B cross the bridge together (2 minutes)
A returns with the flashlight (3 minutes)
C and D cross the bridge together (13 minutes)
B returns with the flashlight (15 minutes)
A and B cross the bridge together again (17 minutes)
THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE FIRE
For several years, I held Q420 as a regular assignment. Formerly known on Conrail as SEBO, the Q420 was a Selkirk to Beacon Park (Boston) freight train. It was usually a heavy train of 8,000 tons or more; most of the train would be dropped at Framingham, and a handful of cars would continue on to Beacon Park. Today, the Q420, as well as “Beacon Pahk Yahd” are long gone.
On March 19, 2003, I was pulling up the hill east of Palmer and got a hit on the high car detector at West Warren. The detector informed me that the clearance defect was near axle 16, which would be the third locomotive in my consist. I looked back and saw a thick column of smoke coming from the third unit. I assumed that the smoke was coming from the stack; a common problem with older General Electric units.
My conductor looked back and told me that the engine was on fire. He was a relatively new employee, and I explained to him about the thick exhaust. “No, it’s on fire, come see!” he replied. I went over to his side, and sure enough, the side of the engine was engulfed in flames. I contacted the dispatcher, who instructed me to stop where the fire department could get to us.
The fire department arrived promptly and extinguished the blaze. After the fire was knocked down, we discovered that the locomotive fuel pump was still working and squirting a stream of fuel oil out the side of the locomotive. I pressed the emergency fuel cut off button to stop the pump, but the fire had damaged it and nothing happened. It was necessary for someone to enter the smoke-filled cab and open the circuit breaker.
While the firefighters had air packs, they explained that they wouldn’t know what to do, so it was up to me. I climbed onto the nose, took a deep breath, entered the cab, knocked down the entire panel of breakers and exited as quickly as possible. We informed the dispatcher that the fire was out and we were now ready to continue.
We had been stopped there about three hours, and the dispatcher was concerned about whether we could make the hill at Charlton with only three engines. I told him that we should make it, but getting to Boston with the time we had left was out of the question. We dragged over the hill and were relieved in Worcester.
While all of this was happening, the Q168, a hot intermodal train was stuck behind me. The engineer was the senior man on the division and a rather dour soul. Because the dispatcher was afraid to stop me in Charlton to get him around me, he had to follow me all the way into Worcester. He was never happy about getting stuck behind a heavy freight (usually me), and after this, he called me “the turtle” until the day he retired.
As for the rest of the story, a photo of the burned engine parked at Worcester was posted on the “CSX sucks” website the very next day. The photos below were taken by a bystander I was talking to at the scene. When he found out I was the engineer, he graciously offered to send me copies of the pictures. As for the locomotive, it was repaired and put back in service; I spotted it that August, none the worse for wear.
KNOCKING DOWN A BRIDGE
On September 22, 1987, I was called out of the hotel for TV-401 at 9:00PM; a northbound stack train with three engines and thirty-one cars. At 12:55 AM, as we were operating through a thirty MPH temporary speed restriction in Nyack, we felt a lurch and the train went into emergency. It felt as though we’d gotten a knuckle and I looked at my engineer in disbelief. There is little slack in a stack train, and I’m sure the engineer was as puzzled as I was.
As I was preparing to inspect the train, my engineer reset the air brake, and the air began to restore on the rear of the train. Well, that ruled out a knuckle, and my engineer discussed whether we should just continue our trip. (This was known as “long-pool rules back in the day). I had a weird feeling about it, so while my engineer notified the dispatcher, I began the mile-and-a-half walk to the rear of the train.
I’d gotten about two cars back when the dispatcher called to tell us that the local police had called him to report a derailment. I told him I didn’t think I was a derailment as the air brake had restored. However, this didn’t reassure him, and every couple of car lengths he would call and ask: ”Did you find anything yet?”
It was a dark and foggy night and visibility was poor. About twenty-five cars back I smelled the scent of burning rubber and my foot hit a large timber that was lying on the ground. It took a moment, but I finally looked up and discovered that the timbers were from a small bridge that we had knocked down. When I notified the dispatcher, the pandemonium began.
The police arrived in short order and blocked off the road, while I inspected the rest of the train. Happily, it was all on the rails. Apparently local residents had heard the noise and called the police, who notified the railroad, and somewhere along the line, somebody just assumed it was a derailment. The top division officers “J1” and “J2” came all the way from Philadelphia that night. And a host of car inspectors and trackmen were on the scene as well.
When I finally got back to the engine, I noticed several water bottles on the ground underneath the engineer’s window. Apparently, like me, he was concerned about taking a urine test, but we were never given one. Everything was “good to go” at 5:55 AM, and we took the train to the siding at Haverstraw. We waited three hours for our relief while the car department went over the train with a fine-tooth comb. We were finally off duty at 12:05 PM.
After an incident like this, there is a period of anxiety while you wait for a certified letter informing you of the formal investigation.
However, if there was an investigation, the train crew wasn’t invited. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what happened. One possibility is that an overweight vehicle crossed the bridge while we were going under it, as the bridge rubbed across the top of several containers before collapsing. Another possibility is that the track department may have raised the track. They had been working on it the day before, which was the reason for the thirty MPH speed restriction. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened at the normal fifty MPH speed!
It took a while, but the bridge was finally repaired with a metal span in the middle.