7.12.05

FINDING THE RIGHT MIX OF IMPROVEMENTS. I recently picked up an anthology combining Adrian Vaughan's Signalman's Morning and Signalman's Twilight, two memoirs of a career keeping the freights out of the way of the expresses on the former Great Western. No review, as I had read these separately several years ago. Some observations on a second reading come to mind. Mr Vaughan's recollections place the books solidly in the class of train-enthusiast writing that ends with some change the author perceives as "everything turned to s***." (In Midwestern train enthusiast circles, if you hear "E-T-T-S," with each letter vocalized, do not assume the speakers are collecting employee timetables. It's likely generalized carping about the passing of the pre-Amtrak, pre-merger carriers.)

In Mr Vaughan's case, ETTS follows the efforts of the Western Region to replace the steam locomotives with German-inspired diesel-hydraulics and the manual block signalling with what they call "panel signal boxes" and we understand as centralized traffic control. The Western Region had troubles with both transitions. The diesels failed with disturbing regularity, and trains sometimes covered great distances with defects.

What was missing from British Rail? General Motors and Motorola come to mind. Nobody would ever mistake a 1750 hp diesel-hydraulic "Hymek" for a GP-9, and the on-train radios permitted crews of opposing trains or observers at the remaining open offices to alert the crews to troubles directly, none of this seven-bells-to-the-next-signalman to put signals at STOP (Danger, if you will) and advising the crew to walk the train.

Today, the supervision of trains is entrusted even more to remote control. A passenger on the Hiawatha was surprised to learn from me about the talking defect detectors that advise the crew of the condition of their train, no more hoping for a sharp eye at Sturtevant!

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