Thursday, January 20, 2011

Postscript to The Rock Train at McNeil

When we left the rock train at McNeil, it was Sunday night. The train sat there until Tuesday morning, because not all that would go wrong for the RNLOL had yet gone wrong.

The Federal Railroad Administration requires that every locomotive be inspected periodically. The prescribed interval for a major inspection is 92 days; these quarterly inspections are fairly thorough and can only be performed at a locomotive shop. There, machinists and electricians will examine every subsystem, checking for defects and making repairs as necessary. Then they top off the fluids, wash the windshield, and release the unit back into service.

The new lead unit set out by the MPBFW, UP 4707, was almost due for its quarterly inspection. We had known that when we decided to use it on the RNLOL. At that time we expected the train to reach its destination in a timely fashion; the engine would probably have to return dead-in-consist to North Little Rock for inspection, but that wouldn't be a problem.

But with the ice and snow continuing to fall, we couldn't get a crew to the train. It was impossible to transport a crew to McNeil by road; we might have taken a crew there by train, but because of the weather, we were having trouble getting enough crews on duty at Pine Bluff to handle other traffic. The rock train at McNeil was not a high priority, and at the stroke of midnight Tuesday morning, the 4707 went FRA dead.

Finally, as the roads began to clear, a crew was called at Pine Bluff to rescue the RNLOL. Another train stopped and picked up the 4707, which would be just so much dead weight on a troubled rock train, while the patch crew took a single locomotive from Pine Bluff to McNeil. There they coupled into the RNLOL and departed for Shreveport without further incident. The delay was approximately 36 hours.

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