Coal Train Handling 101
In 1996, shortly after the UP bought the SP, the UP had officers on the property; in the yard, on the runs, etc. learning how we operated and constantly checking up us. I was called on an eastbound manifest train to Sparks, NV. I hadn't been on the mountain run for a few years, so I wasn't 'qualified' for that run. To stay qualified on a run, you have to make at least one trip in a 90 day period. So, I called the road foreman to talk to him about it. He said, "You haven't forgotten anything have you?" I said, "No." and was put on the run to Sparks. Getting to Sparks, I got my rest, and the next morning was called for a westbound coal train, which I wasn't qualified for either. Calling the road foreman, the same thing happened and I was good to go. The coal train had three GE AC 4400's on the point. These are more powerful and can pull a heavier train. The train weighed 12,000 tons. At Truckee, we were to pick up a three-unit helper to help push us to Norden Summit, where the helper would cut-off and return to Truckee. After leaving Sparks, I got a call from the train dispatcher to pick up two road foreman of engines at Floriston, and take them to Roseville. After leaving Norden, the speed is restricted to 20 mph because of the excessive tonnage. When we arrived at Emigrant Gap, one of the road foreman asked me if he could operate the train. I had the train set up to maintain the speed at 20 mph so all he had to do was operate the dynamic to keep it at that speed. So, I said, "OK." I stepped into the nose of the train to use the 'head', and while I was in there, I heard the train crash into something. I put my hands on the walls to brace myself in case we were derailing. After everything was steady, I went back up into the cab and the road foreman's eyes were as big as saucers! He gave me back my seat saying that he didn't want to run it anymore. "We hit a huge pine tree laying across the track." It was about three feet in diameter. The train had cut it in half sending part of it onto the eastbound track. I heard an eastbound train pass a detector so I radioed the engineer to watch out for the tree. When we got to Roseville, both road foremen came up to me and my conductor asking us how we ever got that heavy of a train over the summit. They said, "We never could figure it out. It doesn't make sense on paper. But we know now." That made us feel pretty good.