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Response to ljm2002 (Reply #13)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 05:42 PM

14. All I did was state a fact, and you want me to answer a questionnaire?

Fine. But before I go any further, I want to state that I am NOT advocating doing away with onboard train crews. I am merely going to state some facts and a bit of history. While I am by no means a career railroader ( I worked for Florida East Coast for a short time in the early 1980's) I have been fascinated by railroads my entire life and have learned a thing or two about them along the way. If any lifetime railroader reads this and notes I have said something wrong, please correct me.

Please explain how the technology will repair a damaged brake line if that should occur.

It doesn't. It's a ridiculous question.

Please explain how it can inspect that train before restarting its journey after repairs.

Ditto. Another ridiculous question.

Please explain what happens if there is an accident, and there is not even one crew member on that train.

The exact same thing that would happen if there were 20 men on the train. Emergency services are called as well as the railroads incident response crews, a cleanup takes place along with an investigation as to the cause of the accident. Do you think the engineer and conductor do it all by themselves? Do you think the railroad company isn't aware when accidents occur?

So sure, maybe in some theoretical la-la land, it makes sense to run a train with NO crew, because technology enables it.

The "theoretical la-la land" already exists, in scores of yards and other facilities around this country. As another poster pointed out below, remote controlled locomotives have been around a VERY long time. With GPS and satellite tracking, completely automated, mainline locomotives are a very real possibility.

Out here in the real world, though, it makes no sense at all.

It makes plenty of sense if it can be done safely, and it actually can.

Two crew members seems to me a bare minimum -- allowing some redundancy in case one is incapacitated.

I am inclined to agree with that.

But just for some perspective, let us look at a little history, OK?

From 1900 through the 1920's, the railroad industry was the largest employer in the United States. More people worked in railroading than any other field. Just for comparison, today the industry that holds that distinction is health care. Railroading also killed more workers than just about any other industry, before or since. From 1900 through 1917, 72,000 railroad workers were killed on the job. That works out to be almost 12 a day.

Before the advent of the Westinghouse brake system, train crews could consist of up to 10 or more men. An engineer, a fireman, a conductor and several brakemen.

The brakeman's job was to climb up on top of the cars and manually tighten the brake wheel on each car. This required walking along the top of a moving train, jumping from car to car in order to complete the task. It was one of, if not THE most hazardous jobs in the business. Men regularly fell from the tops of moving trains, were decapitated from low hanging obstructions like bridges and tunnels or even tree limbs or they fell between cars and were crushed or maimed.

When Mr. Westinghouse's invention became widely installed, thousands of brakemen had lost their jobs.

Should we go back to the days of manual brakes?

When the steam locomotive was in it's heyday, the Pennsylvania Railroads, Altoona shops would see over 17,000 men through the gates for the morning shift. Every skill from machinists, pipefitters, boilermakers, steamfitters, crane operators, forgemen, millwrights, press operators and mechanics of every stripe. Living downwind of the Altoona shops meant having your house and just about everything else constantly covered in soot, not just from the locomotives, but the the numerous other coal and coke fired boilers, forges, blast furnaces and generators thoughout the works.

When the diesel electric locomotives started taking over, the vast majority of those men lost their jobs and though the Altoona yards are still there, they employ a small percentage of what they did in the old days.

Should we go back to the days of steam locomotives?

With the advent of more modern radio communications and the so-called "End of Train Device" (that little box mounted on the last car that usually has a flashing red light on it), the days of the caboose were numbered. You rarely if ever see a caboose at the end of a train anymore. The loss of the caboose in the industry meant the loss of all the jobs that built and serviced them as well as the jobs of those men that rode in them.

Should we go back to the days of cabooses?

Many things in the industry are now automated, from such obvious ones as crossing gates and switches to detectors installed at regular intervals along mainlines that can detect when a wheel bearing is overheating (called a "hotbox" and notify the engineer he has a problem on a specific car.

I completely understand your point of view, both from a safety aspect as well as the loss of jobs issue. But let me ask you this: Are you in favor of seeing more containers and piggy-back trailers on trains? Because of you are, you should realize that every single one of those containers and semi trailers riding on that train represents a truck driver not working.

It's a trade off, right? Less trucks on the road = less pollution and less road congestion. It also means fewer trucking jobs.

One last thing, as far as the jobs perspective is concerned. The one commodity that is most efficiently hauled by railroad is coal. Grains and other similar materials come a close second. An entire 150 car coal train can be loaded, moved and unloaded by no more than 6 men.


It used to take a whole hell of a lot more.

Times change, technology moves forward and there likely will come a day when a manned freight train is as unheard of as a steam whistle.

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HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
Brickbat Jan 2013 #1
Brickbat Jan 2013 #2
TheCowsCameHome Jan 2013 #3
A HERETIC I AM Jan 2013 #5
ljm2002 Jan 2013 #13
LineLineLineLineNew Reply All I did was state a fact, and you want me to answer a questionnaire?
A HERETIC I AM Jan 2013 #14
BlueCollar Jan 2013 #8
TheCowsCameHome Jan 2013 #12
NCTraveler Jan 2013 #4
Motown_Johnny Jan 2013 #6
TwilightGardener Jan 2013 #7
hootinholler Jan 2013 #10
Taverner Jan 2013 #9
MicaelS Jan 2013 #11
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