On the evening of June 25, 2019, Amtrak Train No. 48 departed Chicago Union Station on time at 9:30.That sounds like a story I've told a time or two.
It would be the only time that No. 48 would arrive or depart from a station on schedule during its 959 mile journey to New York City.
Perhaps he should consider himself luck that the train was only 71 minutes late at Elkhart. Sometimes getting east of Ogden Dunes in less than three hours is a challenge.
If a dispatcher for Norfolk Southern decides to hold Amtrak at a control point to wait for two westbound freight trains to clear before switching Amtrak from Track 2 to Track 1 in order to go around a slow freight train ahead on Track 2, the Amtrak crew doesn’t know why the decision was made to hold them rather than holding one or both of the westbound freights further east until Amtrak could go around the slow eastbound freight.Yes, and whether Amtrak is an unconstitutional regulatory taking is still being litigated.
Further, they don’t know whether that decision was made by the dispatcher, by the dispatcher’s supervisor or by a computer program that NS uses to dispatch its railroad. Nor do they know with certainty the logic behind the decision even if they have some idea.
Just for fun, though, pretend you're a passenger on Santa Fe's westbound Super Chief, train 17, in the fall of 1953, when that was still an all-Pullman train, not combined with the El Capitan. Seventeen makes only an operating stop in Winslow, Arizona, to change crews, and otherwise runs non-stop to its next operating stop, Seligman, Arizona. But ahead of it is a heavy freight train, 43, and three passenger trains, two sections of 23, the Northern Grand Canyon, and 123, the Southern Grand Canyon, which sets out a Denver to Phoenix sleeping car at Ash Fork.
The freight train gets out of the way at Daze, to cool its wheels for ten minutes. Yes, even with the early dynamic brakes on diesels, you'd have to set retainers and use the air brakes. But 123 is occupying the westbound main at the Ash Fork station.
No worries: the yard master at Ash Fork directs the train directors at East Ash Fork and Ash Fork to cross Seventeen onto the eastbound main past the station. Seventeen has to reduce speed for the crossovers, and by rule past the station, although 123 and its cars are next to the station building, but it gets back onto the westbound main with a fighting chance of making Seligman on time.
How do I know? Because today was a productive afternoon of operating a model railroad.
That's a lost art on the real railroads.