Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ridin' on the City of New Lisbon...

Another interesting trip on the CN Valley Sub...

I was called Tuesday morning for a "relief-enroute" for train 808, the WPSX coal loads, "somewhere just north of New Lisbon". So far, nothing unusual, other than the caller's wording. We normally get on the train at MP 3.2, kick off the handbrakes, get a new Track Authority, and get on our way. However, upon showing up at the Portage depot, another crew asked if we were going on 808; on replying yes, they chuckled, said "Good Luck", and told us what had happened:

They had gotten the train on the siding at Camp Douglas, just west of New Lisbon, and once they'd gotten their Track Authority, commenced toward New Lisbon. At about MP 9, the DP (distributed power) unit went belly-up, losing power and communication with the head end. The engineer stopped, and proceeded to hike back 5500' through a foot of snow to try to debug the DP unit. After several phone calls with the BNSF diesel doctor, and a couple of hours, he managed to get the DP unit rebooted, but by now they wouldn't have time to get over the road to Weston, so the RTC told them to tie down the train, and wait for a cab. Here's where we came in...

When we arrived at MP 9, we'd decided to use the spur for the ethanol plant south of Necedah to set out the DP unit, shove back, and put the unit on the head end, to avoid further problems. After a couple of hours of work, we'd accomplished this, brake tested the power, tied back onto the train, and proceeded north. The trip was uneventful until MP 40, the North Switch for the new siding of Witt on the Valley Sub. After toning in the switch several times, it wouldn't throw, but as if by magic a maintainer showed up to work on the turnout. He troubleshot for about an hour, then decided to get us out of the way first. My conductor hand-lined the switch, and off we went, through Rapids Yard limits, north to Junction City, and beyond.

Once cresting the hill at MP 67, I reduced throttle and got into the dynamic brakes to control the speed. Within minutes, the alarm bell started ringing, and wouldn't shut off no matter what we tried. Finally, we just decided to take the train up to Weston, spot the train, and deal with it then. By the time we'd gotten the train spotted, the trailing unit had shut down, and after cycling a few breakers, the alarm bell finally stopped, but I still didn't know what was going on. I restarted the unit, and everything looked normal, so we tied up and went to the hotel.

Wednesday morning, when we got to the coal plant, the troublesome rear unit was dead, and wouldn't re-start. I couldn't see water in the sight glass, but neither was there a puddle underneath the engine. The autostart light was out, and all of the lights inside were dim at best, and even the electric parking brake wouldn't spin off. I turned off everything I could, but couldn't get any response out of the unit. I tagged it, and gave up for the time being. We put together the outbound empties train, got our Authority, and headed south. Upon arrival at Rapids Yard, we were told to hold at the Yard Limit for "a little while", so I went back to the dead engine. I cycled the computer breaker again, and now the FIRE screens lit up, cycled, and showed a couple of error messages. I hit "Reset" as applicable, and the rest just went away, so I tried the Start switch, and lo and behold, success! I looked at the sight glass again, and the water had been so full that there was no "level" in the sight glass. Fortunately, it hadn't dumped! I reconfigured our power, put the trailing unit on line, and headed for the cab to proceed south.

Once we got permission into the yard, we proceeded south, and once we cleared Rapids Yard proper, we still had about a half-mile of 10 MPH track due to a slow order. In order to maintain speed, I dropped out of the throttle, and set up the dynamic brakes. Again, within moments, the alarm bell started, so I sent the conductor back to isolate the errant unit, AGAIN. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the two times I'd had trouble was going into the DB's, so I called the conductor on the radio, told him to cut out the DB's, cycle the computer breaker, and see what happened. Well, it worked! So now, we had an SD70ACe with bad order DB's leading; an SD70MAC second, isolated but set up for DB-only; and the second SD70ACe, also with bad order DB's.

Other than the itinerant switch at North Witt, which we hand-lined again, the rest of the trip was uneventful. The power moves and issues had been enough fun for one trip...

Photo is of an earlier trip, taken by Greg Drewiske of Wisconsin Rapids, and used with tacit permission at best...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Well, the weather outside is frightful..."

Just returned home from Minnesota City. It was snowing almost all the way down. Our train had three SD40's, all in blue and yellow paint, of various lineages. The lead unit was having ground relay problems when we got it from the DM&E crew this morning, but fortunately we weren't too large at any point along the line to where that would have caused a problem. We had to set out 24 cars - BEHIND 63! - at the Carlson Pass by Tower CK, then we hiballed to LaCrosse, where we set out 40 more (behind 10), and picked up 24. The LaCrosse Roadswitch crew had finished most of their work, and was going home early because of the road conditions. The Crew Transport drivers had already been pulled off the roads, so my conductor had to walk up to the head end after doing the work. After that, it was a nearly straight shot to Portage. We took the siding at Kilbourn for #7, but never even stopped for the meet.

We'd met a few trains enroute that were tying down their trains in various sidings along the River Sub. St. Paul already has over 18" of snow, so the yard didn't want to take in any new "rolling snow fences".

Along the way, my conductor and I were watching an icicle growing from the edge of the headlight casing. It started out about 1/2" thick, and about 8" long when we got on the train, and by the time we reached Portage, it had grown all the way down to the hood top, and was about 1 1/2" thick!

Unfortunately, thanks to Textboy in LA, no pictures of the trip. There were a number of gorgeous snow scenes that would have been photo-worthy, but so it goes.

Driving home was an adventure all its own. Top speed was 35MPH, and the crossing winds were nearly the same. It only took me an hour and 15 minutes, or about double a "normal" trip home.

'Til next time...



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