Old Enough to Know Better, Young Enough to Care

Written by David Schanoes, Contributing Editor
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I confess to being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to railroads. Not orthodox, not conservative and certainly not rigid, but a traditionalist. For example, I think a railroad line officer is a trainmaster and not a transportation manager, operations services supervisor or anything else. I’m a traditionalist, so I never thought I’d have to argue certain fundamentals. Silly, traditional me.

I never thought I’d have to argue that an interlocking is an arrangement of controlled signals and signal appliances (switches, derails, frogs) interconnected in such a way that their operation must be in proper sequence, and for which interlocking rules are in effect. I was wrong. The definition isn’t wrong. I was wrong that I never thought there would be an argument about it. There was. I was told that the definition is obsolete and does not accurately reflect current microprocessor-based interlockings.

But I’m a traditionalist. I always thought the fact that the logic of the interlocking is etched into a microprocessor and involves processing multiple arrays of “1s” and “0s,” rather than being arranged in a locking bed and wired into relays, was immaterial. I always thought a microprocessor-based interlocking performed all the field checks of a “traditional” interlocking.

Then, I never thought I’d have to argue that a controlled point was a station where a signal capable of displaying “stop” was located, and controlled by train dispatcher. I was told that a controlled point was an interlocking, but not an interlocking as I had traditionally defined it. Being a traditionalist, I replied that no interlocking, as defined traditionally or hypothetically, was required for a controlled point to be a controlled point. I’m sticking to that. I don’t care if it makes me sound like I’m older than I look. I am older than I look.

As a traditionalist, I never thought I’d have to argue that the rear end of a train is defined by the marker, or end-of-train device, and that “marker” is the term appropriate for the railroad as opposed to “built in rear tail lights.” I come from the “marker, end of train device” school, and I’m true to my school.

I never thought that I would have to argue that the term “contractor,” when used in railroad operating rules, includes “consultant,” but I did.

I never thought I’d have to explain that the reason a train dispatcher must keep, directly on a train sheet, a record of foul time granted, and is not required to record other forms of protection directly on the train sheet, is because the other form of protection a train dispatcher can provide is exclusive track occupancy, which requires its own written record, the mandatory directive.

I never thought that when I created a new template for a written movement authority (a mandatory directive) that included space for the time the blocking device was applied for exclusive track occupancy, I would have to argue that there was no point to including a space to record the time of blocking device was removed, since the time of removal made absolutely no difference to the person releasing the track authority.

I never thought, when including in that movement authority a line for granting permission for a train to operate against the established direction of traffic to couple onto the head end of unattended equipment, I would have to argue that unattended equipment actually had a head end because its movement had established a direction of traffic.

I never thought I’d have to argue that the definition of “Restricted Speed” should not include “track cars” in its list of conditions for which the locomotive engineer had to be prepared to stop short, given that trains were only allowed to follow track cars into a block in an emergency, and with written movement authority. Guess what? I did.

I never thought I’d have to argue for a train dispatcher giving an “OK” when an employee makes additional copies of a movement authority rather than having the train dispatcher providing a “time effective” for the additional copies. I never thought I’d have to point out that the same movement authority cannot have multiple “times effective.”

I never thought I’d have to point out that insulated joints at controlled signals are traditionally located directly at or marginally in advance of the signal, otherwise trains would occupy circuits in advance of a stop signal when being to the rear of that signal.

I never thought I’d have to explain that a controlled signal indicating “proceed governed by cab signals” meant exactly “proceed governed by cab signals,” even when following another train into the block.

I never thought I would have to argue that a train properly receiving permission via radio to proceed by a working-limits stop sign need not operate at “Restricted Speed” unless so notified by the employee in charge, just as any train passing any roadway worker group on an adjacent track need not operate at “Restricted Speed.”

Being a traditionalist, I’ve made and continue to make all those arguments, and more, in support of the rationality of the railroad tradition. Being older than I look, I exhausted my patience sooner than I expected. That’s kind of traditional on the railroad, too. I found myself as I always have been, as I traditionally have been: Old enough to know better, and still young enough to care.

David Schanoes is Principal of Ten90 Solutions LLC, a consulting firm he established upon retiring from MTA Metro-North Railroad in 2008. David began his railroad career in 1972 with the Chicago & North Western, as a brakeman in Chicago. He came to New York in 1977, working for Conrail’s New Jersey Division. David joined Metro-North in 1985. He has spent his entire career in operations, working his way up from brakeman to conductor, block operator, dispatcher, supervisor of train operations, trainmaster, superintendent, and deputy chief of field operations. “Better railroading is 10% planning plus 90% execution,” he says. “It’s simple math. Yet, we also know, or should know, that technology is no substitute for supervision, and supervision that doesn’t utilize technology isn’t going to do the job. That’s not so simple.”

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