Graham’s Corner: Train Stuff

TrainsBy Graham Henry, Resident Train Expert, April 9th, 2014

As far as I can find out, the 4014 is still in Colton, California. It will take several days to go to Cheyenne, as the towing speed appears to be about 20 miles per hour.

The first safety rule I learned when I went to work for the railroad was DO NOT STEP ON THE RAIL, as it could be wet or greasy, which make for a very slippery rail.

More about couplers, which are part of what is called draft gear. Today a train can be 6,000 feet long or longer. In the days of the caboose, an engineer started moving at the slowest speed possible until he knew the caboose was moving by the distance the locomotive had traveled—or got a hand signal from the brakeman at the caboose indicating it was moving—otherwise, the caboose could be standing still and suddenly moving at the speed of the locomotive. There have been stories of the stove in the caboose being ripped from its mountings by the sudden start. Today’s couplers much have improved reduction in the amount of slack allowed.

A train of dedicated cars for iron ore or coal could have rotary couplers, which would then enable the car to be turned completely upside down at an unloading facility such as an iron-ore dock, saving much time.

I have seen a caboose with a cupola, the windows on the roof of a caboose. The seats up there had full shoulder straps, which were to be used when occupied. In the day of the interurban electric railways, the couplers also made the electrical control circuit connections between the cars. When a train is moving, the engineer usually has the brakes on, to some degree, to keep the slack out when the route is hilly but not only downhill.

One can order today’s diesel locomotives with dynamic braking, which turns the traction motors into generators, which dissipate the electricity they generate into large heater grids on the roof of the locomotive. This helps immensely when going downhill, and is called regenerative braking.

Today, helpers can be in the middle of the train and are controlled by the engineer in the lead locomotive. This is called distributed power. There can be more than one set, depending on the grade and weight of the train. These locomotives can also have dynamic braking.

Next month: whistle signals before radios.

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