14G in emergency
Yrs trly is listening to the railroad radio down near Altoona, PA over the Internet.
I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2.
14G is mixed freight eastbound. Pittsburgh-East is the railroad’s dispatcher in Pittsburgh. He dispatches the railroad from Pittsburgh to Altoona. The railroad is the old Pennsy main, now owned and operated by Norfolk Southern.
“I’m stopped in emergency at about 240,” the engineer reported.
Milepost 240 is 240 miles from Pennsy’s original terminal in Philadelphia, Broad St. Terminal, long gone.
The mileposts are about a mile apart, but often not exactly.
The railroad straightened curves, which affected the mile distance. Miles were frequently shortened, or in some cases extended.
“Emergency” means all the train-brakes are fully set. Each freightcar has brakes, which can be mechanically set by chain-wheel on each car, or engaged by a train-length air-line from the locomotive.
That’s Westinghouse’s great air-brake invention, which made train operation much safer.
Prior to air-brakes, brakemen had to walk the car tops to set the chain-wheels, difficult in bad weather, and unsafe.
There was a chance the brakie might slip and fall — and be run over and killed by the train.
In the early 1800s, the main impediment to trade with the nation’s interior was the Appalachians, particularly Allegheny Mountain.
The Appalachians didn’t go as far north as central NY, so NY was able to dig a cross-state canal, the “Erie,” Albany to Buffalo.
South of Albany, canal-packets could use the Hudson River. Thanks to that canal, New York City became this nation’s premier east coast port.
With the Erie, Philadelphia and Baltimore worried. They wanted to be premier ports too, but faced the Appalachians.
Baltimore capitalists founded the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, our nation’s first common-carrier railroad. “Common-carrier” meaning it carried whatever freight showed up. It wasn’t a dedicated operation owned by a coal or lumber company.
B&O got over to the Potomac River valley, then followed it inland paralleling the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to Cumberland, MD.
After Cumberland it continued west over what is now called “The West End” to Grafton, WV, then north to the Ohio River.
The C&O canal never got past Cumberland.
The railroad, still used, is especially challenging; it has two summits.
An easier routing to the Ohio River came later, to Pittsburgh. But at first B&O wasn’t allowed to Pittsburgh.
Philadelphians engaged the state to build a combination canal and railroad, the “Public Works System.”
It used already built railroad from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River, then canal to the foot of Allegheny Mountain.
Allegheny Mountain couldn’t be canaled, so a railroad was built to portage canal-packets over the mountain.
Horses were used at first.
The railroad had 10 inclined planes, since grading at that time was very rudimentary. Stationary steam-engines winched the cars up the planes.
Once over the mountain, Public Works returned to canal from Johnstown, PA to Pittsburgh.
But since -a) Public Works was so slow and cumbersome, and -b) railroad technology had advanced, Philadelphia capitalists decided to bypass the state, and build their own common-carrier railroad, from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
This was the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, soon to become the largest railroad in the world — mainly because it merged so many western lines to feed its main stem at Pittsburgh, plus outlets east of Philadelphia.
Like before, that railroad had Allegheny Mountain to conquer. So the developers brought in John Edgar Thomson to engineer an easy climb over the mountain.
Thomson’s alignment is still used, and includes Horseshoe Curve, his trick to ease the climb.
His climb up the east slope of the mountain is not impossible, but required helper locomotives.
It only averages 1.8 feet up for every 100 feet forward, 1.8%; not steep enough for Granny to consider it a hill.
But it’s a grade. Trains climbing are assaulting the heavens!
Climbing is dramatic, but harder is coming safely down.
Not properly braked, a train might run away.
Boom through Altoona at 70-80 mph, unless it derails and crashes somewhere.
“I rounded Horseshoe Curve, and my train took off,” 14G’s engineer told Pittsburgh-East.
“So you dumped it yourself,” Pittsburgh-East said.
Usually a train goes into emergency only if the train-line breaks.
“Dumped” means letting all the air out of the train-line, thereby setting all the train-brakes.
It was either that or 70-80 mph through Altoona, trackside ditches waiting, locomotives exploding in flames (sorry, that’s a movie), 14G’s cars continuing on momentum until they derail and pile into each other.
So what did I hear?
Fortunately it wasn’t a movie. Them train-guys take their job very seriously.
I think I heard 14G’s engineer save Altoona from a runaway.