Log in

View Full Version : train tracks

2004-10-25, 13:23
Saturday I took a trip with my wife and daughter by car. We drove 90 miles north, basically following the Hudson river to an orchard which had apple picking, pumpkins, and other fruits and vegetables. Most of the stuff was dead already. We bought a huge pumpkin, some fruit spread, and a fresh baked apple pie that I ate within 24 hours time. You can see the site we visited here (http://www.lawrencefarmsorchards.com/).

It was a nice drive going there and seeing the scenery with the hills and the colorful fall leaves on the trees. Being there reminded me of how ten years ago in the Summer I got to ride in a train locomotive from the NYC area in New Jersey to Albany, which is going north along the west side of the Hudson river and is one third of the way towards Montreal. I knew someone who was a locomotive engineer for a freight company that was called Conrail at the time. This was a big train that was perhaps a mile long weighing 8000 tons, with two locomotives having like 5000 horsepower each.

Driving a long train like that means you have to plan ahead so that you get enough power to go up a hill or stop in time for a red signal. Trains have a slight gap between each coupler so that for a long train, it translates into several feet of slack that the front engine would move before the rear cars finally move. The locomotive engineer would have to avoid sudden bursts of speed or otherwise a metal piece called a knuckle on the car's coupler would break and the train would come to a stop, because by design trains apply their emergency brakes when the cars become separated and the air pressure gets dumped. So then the conductor would have to take the spare knuckle, a heavy piece of metal, and walk back to fix it, carrying his radio to communicate with the engineer once it was in place so that he would back it up to the cars and close the gap.

Railroads have actually declined in the United States and the federal government stepped in to save them in the 1970s by creating both Conrail for freight and Amtrak for passenger. This line going up to Albany from NYC was called the "River Line" and was only one track, as that made maintenance cheaper for the railroad. But it also created problems if there was a derailment or a stalled train.

This friend of mine who was the locomotive engineer had a lot of stories to tell.

One time they were traveling along a curve they couldn't see around along the Hudson river, and they saw a bright light reflecting off the water. They were worried it was an oncoming train so both he and the conductor were ready to throw on the brakes and jump out the window. But it turned out to be a boat close to shore with a bright light.

Federal rules limit the duration of the crew to 12 hours of work, so one time when he was a conductor the engineer chose to stop the train on a railroad bridge called Hellgate bridge (http://www.tcamembers.org/gallery/misc/hellgate1.jpg), which is the only railroad connection for freight trains from the mainland United States to Long Island. They were then able to enjoy the scenery waiting for a relief crew there.

There was a time when a previous derailment of a car full of apples left many deer wandering near the tracks, so when he got there he ended up running over a few. He said they were pretty dumb and would run away from the train straight down the tracks.

Often people would check to see if a train is coming at the railroad crossing by pulling onto it with their cars and stopping to look. He actually hit someone's car one time and the lady was lucky enough to live because it just caught the corner of her car. When they finally stopped the train and walked back the lady demanded that they be arrested rather than accept responsibility for what happened. When a train hits something it's never the train's fault because it can't stop quickly or steer out of the way. There's a rule that locomotive engineers have to blow their horns approaching all railroad crossings.

My friend also has run over someone who was already dead that a previous train ran over. They stopped and walked back and he said the body was bright red. A lot of people get drunk and walk down train tracks and kill themselves or are just unaware of their surroundings.

Did you ever walk down the train tracks before? I've done it and though it's dangerous I stay alert so it's not a problem. For the most part train lines are peaceful and when the trains come they are really loud. Train lines are old and go places that cars don't go, so it's a totally different world walking there. You can walk down a road and suddenly find a dead end, but not so with train tracks. I used to hang out on the train tracks when I was younger, and watch the trains. I would sneak out of the house at night and do that, even on school nights. I used to put shopping carts on the tracks and throw rocks at the trains too.

When I was in New Orleans last year I hopped on a slow moving freight train through town along the Mississippi, and rode on it for about 1000 feet. I felt like staying on. I think I would like to do that some time for a vacation. I would like to hobo my way around the country riding on freight trains. In the Great Depression of the 1930s that is how some men traveled around the country, looking for jobs.

2004-10-26, 11:52
Interesting post. Only because I have a buddy who used to work on trains. He got laid off, indefinately, though. It paid good and he had it made, because he was an alcoholic. The job was perfect for him, and I know that sounds funny, but I don't know how he got away with it. He misses it a lot. Now he just goes from job to job. Young fellow too. Not bad looking. But this drinking problem, is exactly what I say. A problem. He drinks from the moment he wakes up, until he can't stay up any longer.
I will say that he is one of the coolest drunks I've ever known, and probably the only one I would not mind, putting up with. He can't keep a girl. So he's pretty lonely, with only pals who like to drink.
I think he is the perfect candidate for a hobo, riding trains, huh? He just won't get paid. lol.

2004-10-26, 12:34
Working on a railroad used to be a party, with a lot of drinking going on in the caboose. But railroads have eliminated cabooses, replacing them with EOTs/FREDs and many jobs like fireman have been eliminated too. Usually it was done through attrition and options to transfer to other positions if the union was strong. Maybe your friend didn't have a strong union or much seniority. What was his job position on the railroad?

2004-10-27, 13:43
I don't remember, actually, that's why I didn't mention it in the above post. I just know he really did have those "striped over-alls" that you picture when thinking of train dudes. You are probably right about why he isn't working anymore. Everyone is down-sizing these days. The all-mighty buck you know.