Saturday, February 2, 2013

"I've Been Working On The Railroad, by Jim Munsey

Jim Munsey writes:

Shortly after the installation of centralized traffic control (CTC) began on the Mountain Region starting at Biggar, the regional signal engineer was promoted to the position of system signal engineer in Montreal.  His replacement had been assigned as ass't regional signal engineer for the Great Lakes Region, with headquarters in Toronto.  It was not long before I recognized this man as being exceptionally intelligent, highly competent and very easy to work with.   As the co-ordinator between the transportation and signal department, I worked very closely with him and his staff.  One day, the subject of automatic hot box and dragging equipment detectors came up, and since I knew nothing about them, I was anxious to learn how they worked.

Our new regional signal engineer told us of how he was able to convince his superiors on the Great Lakes Region to approve the acquisition and installation of a test unit on the main line between Toronto and Montreal.  He was put in charge of the project and it worked well, but for reasons he did not quite understand, the test was cancelled.  The installation was dismantled and the equipment put into storage.  I asked if the unit could be adapted for service on our region and was it avilable for us.  He later confirmed that we could have it and quoted a cost estimate for installation on our region.  I then wrote to my superior, the regional general superintendent transportation, outlining the history and approximate cost of installing the detector.  I recommended it be secured and tested on our region .   Approval was granted, but I cannot recall whether the costs were born by the transportation or the engineering department.

Equipment failure records on the Unity Subdivision between Biggar and Wainwright were reviewed to determine where this device could be most advantageously installed.  After deciding on a general location, the next important factor was to have it in a place where, if a defect was detected, the train dispatcher would have time to identify the problem on the pen-graph printout, decide on the action to be taken, and then have the ability to use the CTC block signals to stop the train.   End to end train radio was in service, but wayside radio which provided direct communication with the train dispatcher, was not yet available.  The place finally selected was near Artland, forty four miles east of Wainright.

The detector arrived and the signal department employees were not long getting it installed.  On the day it was being tested, I went to the train dispatching office to watch the proceedings.  The signal supervisor was sitting next to the train dispatcher.  He was wearing a set of ear phones and was talking to one of his people at the site on a service telephone.  They were trying to get the pen-graph adjusted to print out a readily identifiable pin deflection to indicate defects.

When reading a test printout of an eastbound freight train, the signal supervisor expressed concern for a high reading which appeared on the tape.  He pointed it out to me, suggesting it could be an error, but he felt it was more likely a legitimate high reading of a wheel on that train.  By that time, the engine on the train had passed a clear indication of the CTC signals at Artland and there was no way to stop the train until it approached the next siding ahead.  The train dispatcher called the operator at Wainright and asked him if he could try to contact the crew on his base station radio and instruct them to stop at once.  We all thought this was futile as the distance involved was far beyond the range of what is normally expected of a VHF radio.  A moment or two later, much to our disbelief and relief, the operator reported that he had succeeded in getting through to the engine crew and the train was being stopped.  Although barely discernable, the operator was able to advise the crew of the possible "hot box" and instructed them to inspect their train before proceeding.  The crew later reported that they had found a burned journal end and would be nursing it to the next station where it would be set off..  It was clear that if the new device had not detected the burning journal and the train subsequently stopped, a very serious derailment would have occurred.

There was some comfort in the fact that money saved by not having a major derailment was substantially more than the cost of the detector.  This incident hastened the acquisition and installation of more detectors and the extension of wayside radio.  Parameters had to be set and guidelines written to govern whether a train dispatcher, or other designated employee simply warned a crew of a potential defect, or took immediate action to stop the train for an inspection.  I never ceased to be amazed at the number of times a train dispatcher's instinct or "gut feeling" made him take the more restrictive action when the printout only required a warning.  Eventually, more modern and sophisiticated detectors were installed on all major lines at intervals to minimize the number undectected defects and avoid countless derailments.

Jim Munsey has written his railroad memoirs in a 320 page volume called,

A Collection of Stories About The Railway and It's Employees in Western Canada. 

This work has not yet been made available to the public, although I have made pleadings of Mr. Munsey in that direction.  I feel that the material he has documented provides a unique view of a great railroader who worked for a great railroad.  His contributions to railroading in Canada are many, and notable.

I am deeply appreciative that Jim has allowed me a copy of his work and, further..., he has given his permission to share some of his wonderfully amusing, informative and historical memories with you in this blog....  Caboose Coffee.

Jim Munsey has been inducted into the Railroad Hall of Fame as a "Hero", along with Sir Sanford Fleming, Nicholas Morant, Harry Home, Susan Anholt and other deserving recipients of the honour.

Read his bio here.


Andrew said...

Great read!

LOU said...

THANK-Y'ALL-KINDLY for sharing these very-interesting, informative,and knowledgeable items w/ us-all ! ! ! ! !


Gracebeliever077 said...

This was indeed an interesting story. I love this sort of thing. Thanks for sharing.