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Trains are Better than Air Planes August 9, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.

Look out for the Train!Sunday at 1pm, walked down to the beach, sat out, swam several times, read a physics today. Sunday at 4:15pm, boarded a TGB to CERN. Wednesday afternoon at 5:15pm arrived back in Marseille from CERN. By 5:45 I was back at the beach for a quick swim.

The water is cold, by the way.



1. carlbrannen - August 11, 2007

So, what is a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe locomotive picture doing on your blog? I thought you were in France. Maybe I’m not reading your blog carefully enough.

If you’ve ever spent time loading freight cars any romantic ideas you might have about the railroads should dissolve away. My “day” job involves working at an industrial equipment company. We’re setting up a corn to ethanol plant on I-90 about 180 miles east of Seattle. It has rail access in two places, one at our warehouse here and the other at our grain elevator a couple miles south. If one of your physics experiments ever needs help with heavy equipment, give me a call.

2. carlbrannen - August 17, 2007

On second thought, I realized I should add that we are not a “common carrier” and cannot charge shipping except when we’re moving stuff that we sell or own. In the above “help” means “advice on cheap ways to do things”.

For example, when you’re shipping a uniquely shaped object by rail, you will do best if you let the unions do the work. If you need to ship hundreds of them, you can avoid unions (by loading at a track owned by a non union rail company) but you need to design within the parameters of how rails work. Unlike trucks, rail loads are not inspected along the way, but only at the source.

In order to make inspections efficient and to avoid false warnings, the load must be secured in such a way that it is plainly obvious at a glance that it is well secured. For this reason, we once had to put extra tie downs on a series of flat bed loads in order to get the right “look”.

One can ship objects wider than a rail car, but only with permission (the railroads know how much room they have on each section of track and can plan for this sort of thing), and because of how track works, the longer the railcar, the tighter the width restriction. Also, trains are subject to some fascinating problems having to do with swaying interactions between cars, and this results in restrictions on where the center of mass of a load may be placed.

3. gordonwatts - August 17, 2007

Actually, the swaying interactions sound fascinating. Where can I find out more about them?

4. carlbrannen - August 18, 2007

I’ve never seen it written down. The rules are published in a huge set of loose-leaf books that an industry consortium sells at a high price. The reason for the rule was explained to me by a Union Pacific (union) railroad inspector at the (non union) Tri-City and Olympia Railroad yard near the port of Olympia.

I’m naturally curious, and I like to know the reasoning behind safety rules and regulations so that I can make sure that they are followed in spirit and meaning as well as letter. (Uh, convincing a certain LNI inspector of my devotion to safety is probably a lost cause, due to the circumstances under which he red tagged one of our forklifts a few years ago.) One of the rules that I recall was specifically related to sway, was that loads must be placed with their center of mass midway between the ends of the rail car.

There’s a link to a satellite photo of our staging yard at the Port of Olympia about halfway down this site. The white building just barely showing on the bottom edge of the picture is a warehouse which houses a TCORR locomotive. You can see the tracks if you pan down. The TCORR rail yard is one of the dustiest, dirtiest, hottest, filthiest and least sanitary places I’ve ever worked (seagulls).

The number 1616 locomotive that naps there, (photo taken in Olympia near the Port I think), is a 1950s era EMD GP9, a locomotive with a diesel generator supplying electrically driven drive wheels.

Once I got to see the engineers turn it on. This takes about a half hour. Before they turn over the key, they have to crack open all of its 16 big cylinders. My shaky memory of this is that it is to avoid a dangerous condition where there is an early diesel detonation at top dead center on the initial stroke without enough momentum to begin turning the engine over.

Flat cars come in many types. We used oak decked cars and steel 2×4 decked cars. They come covered with rusty nails left over from, I swear, every load they’ve ever carried. The steel 2×4 decks are designed to accept certain size nails in gaps between the fake steel 2x4s. One also welds loads onto the heavy steel parts of a flatcar (not the fake 2x4s which are quite thin gauge).

Both types come with large numbers of chains that are heavy and dirty. The chain plates are always bent so that if you need to move them around, you frequently have to sledge hammer them into position. When the car is inspected, one of the things they check is that the chains cannot be jolted loose so they would hang off of the car.

While tightening a chain, one hits it with a sledge hammer. This is a sort of annealing operation; otherwise the chain can freeze in a position that does not maximize its length (it would find this state later on and become quite loose).

5. mikescirocco3 - September 6, 2007

Interesting posts carlbrannen. If you aren’t tired of writing about it yet, would you mind talking more about anything interesting you’ve seen, maybe related to loads being positioned or tied down correctly, cars swaying? I’ve never ridden on a train and this is interesting stuff.

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