Engineer v. Conductor

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What exactly is the breakdown of responsibility between the engineer and the conductor? I get it that the conductor is in charge of everything relating to passengers, but does he or she also have to be qualified on the line? Who communicates with the dispatcher? If it's the conductor who gets the train in and out of the station fast, do dispatchers care more about working with a good engineer or a good conductor to give them a good move? What exactly is under the engineer's control?

(These questions are all about Amtrak, but to the extent it's different on other railroads, that's also interesting).
 

Shortline

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What exactly is the breakdown of responsibility between the engineer and the conductor? I get it that the conductor is in charge of everything relating to passengers, but does he or she also have to be qualified on the line? Who communicates with the dispatcher? If it's the conductor who gets the train in and out of the station fast, do dispatchers care more about working with a good engineer or a good conductor to give them a good move? What exactly is under the engineer's control?

(These questions are all about Amtrak, but to the extent it's different on other railroads, that's also interesting).
Conductor is, by definition and rule, in charge of the entire train. Not only the passengers, but to keep the train on time, operate safely, etc. The Engineer is responsible for operating the locomotive consist. Both can talk to the dispatcher and copy mandatory directives, track authority, etc and relay to the other. Not sure how Amtrak breaks down their responsibilities, so don't know if one usually handles it vs the other. Traditionally, the Conductor on a freight train would handle most of the communication, allowing the engineer to focus on operating the train.

Both Conductors and Engineers have to be qualified on the segment of track they are operating on. If you sit in the cafe near the Conductor (where I have usually seen them hanging out) you'll here him responding to the Engineers signal calls (i.e. Clear Nahunta Main 1, Medium aproach Medium South Charleson etc. They will also communicate the results of any defect detector they pass over and other important information) By knowing the signals and locations of them, the Conductor can back up the Engineer to help ensure nothing is missed, and know what to expect at the next signal, or generally follow what's going on ahead of their train. Not sure how effective that really is though, since the Conductor is in the back and can't see the signals himself obviously, and I suspect probably are just mindlessly repeating the calls without a lot of thought, until something sounds unusual-Maybe someone who operates passenger could answer that better.

If you're interested, here's what the General Code has to say about breakdown of crew responsibility. GCOR is the primary operating rules system in the West. It differs somwhat in the East, where CSX and NS have their own, separate operating rules. And of course, Amtrak may (and probably does) have their own breakdown in their System Special Instructions or other publication.

1.47 Duties of Crew Members



The conductor and the engineer are responsible for the safety and protection of their train and




observance of the rules. They must ensure that their subordinates are familiar with their duties, determine




the extent of their experience and knowledge of the rules. They must instruct them, when necessary, how




to perform their work properly and safely. If any conditions are not covered by the rules, they must take




precautions to provide protection.



A. Conductor Responsibilities



1. The conductor supervises the operation and administration of the train (if trains are combined




with more than one conductor on board, the conductor with the most seniority takes charge). All




persons employed on the train must obey the conductor’s instructions, unless the instructions




endanger the train’s safety or violate the rules. If any doubts arise concerning the authority




for proceeding or safety, the conductor must consult with the engineer who will be equally




responsible for the safety and proper handling of the train.




2. The conductor must advise the engineer and train dispatcher of any restriction placed on




equipment being handled.




3. The conductor must remind the engineer that the train is approaching an area restricted by:




• Limits of authority.




• Track warrant.




• Track bulletin.



or



• Radio speed restriction.




The conductor must inform the engineer after the train passes the last station, but at least 2 miles




from the restriction.




4. When the conductor is not present, other crew members must obey the instructions of the




engineer concerning rules, safety, and protection of the train.




5. Freight conductors are responsible for the freight carried by their train. They are also responsible




for ensuring that the freight is delivered with any accompanying documents to its destination or




terminals. Freight conductors must maintain any required records.



1-16 GCOR—Sixth Edition—April 7, 2010



B. Engineer Responsibilities



1. The engineer is responsible for safely and efficiently operating the engine. Crew members




must obey the engineer’s instructions that concern operating the engine. A student engineer or




other qualified employee may operate the engine under close supervision of the engineer. Any




employee that operates an engine must have a current certificate in their possession.




2. The engineer must check with the conductor to determine if any cars or units in the train require




special handling.



C. All Crew Members’ Responsibilities



1. To ensure the train is operated safely and rules are observed, all crew members must act




responsibly to prevent accidents or rule violations. Crew members in the engine control




compartment must communicate to each other any restrictions or other known conditions that




affect the safe operation of their train sufficiently in advance of such condition to allow the




engineer to take proper action. If proper action is not being taken, crew members must remind




engineer of such condition and required action.




2. Crew members in the engine control compartment must be alert for signals. As soon as signals




become visible or audible, crew members must communicate clearly to each other the name of




signals affecting their train. They must continue to observe signals and announce any change of




aspect until the train passes the signal. If the signal is not complied with promptly, crew members




must remind the engineer and/or conductor of the rule requirement. If crew members do not




agree on the signal indication, regard the signal as the most restrictive indication observed.




3. When the engineer and/or conductor fail to comply with a signal indication or take proper action




to comply with a restriction or rule, crew members must immediately take action to ensure safety,



using the emergency brake valve to stop the train, if necessary.

 
 
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me_little_me

Conductor
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The simplest analogy:

I am the driver. I think I am in charge of the car. But I know better. She is the one really in charge.
 

xyzzy

Conductor
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Strife between conductors and engineers is legend. Historically they've been represented by different unions. In days before political correctness, conductors would sometimes accuse engineers of being stupid. Engineers would sometimes accuse conductors of being arrogant know-it-all's who made money by riding trains and telling everybody else what to do. Amtrak might be one happy family but it ain't necessarily the case on the freight railroads.
 

AutoTrDvr

OBS Chief
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Messages
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The simplest analogy:

I am the driver. I think I am in charge of the car. But I know better. She is the one really in charge.
And it seems to be the converse model to airlines where the "pilot/driver/Capt." *is* the boss. I recall when airlines used to have the equivalent of an "OBS Chief," (International flights might still have an "International Service Manager"). But the Pilot/Capt. was still the boss.

Which, up until I had ridden the Alaska Railroad in 1996, I also thought was the case with trains (i.e. the "engineer" was the boss). The "conductor" and I had a nice little chat (oddly enough) on the one and only "bustitution" I've ever had to endure ( a track issue 3hrs into a ride to Anchorage from Denali Natl. Pk). He explained that the conductor is the boss.

I always thought (but this obviously would not apply to freight trains), that the conductor is the boss due to the engineer's isolation from the rest of the train and the passengers. Sometimes, the conductor needing to facilitate "manager like" interactions with the passengers (i.e. "enforcing rules/conduct" etc.), Technically, an airline pilot is able to do this, although I would suspect/hope that modern security procedures try to minimize either pilot being out of the cockpit except to use the "facilities" or during a "shift change" on a long international flight.

Thankfully, we now have AU.... where the engineers are the boss! :D :p :D
 
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Joined
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Messages
13
Thank you Shortline for your comprehensive reply.

It leaves three follow-up questions for me, if you still have the energy to answer them.

1. When dispatchers talk about knowing someone will give them a good move, what does that mean? That the engineer gets the train up to track speed quickly or that the conductor gets them in and out of stations quickly or both?

2. Do engineers get promoted to conductor or are these just different career paths? Or does that depend on the railroad and the union?

3. The other question is -- where do conductors of freight train sit and what do they do most of the time? It would seem they would have a lot less stuff to do as they have no passengers to worry about, but there must be something I'm overlooking.
 

Shortline

Conductor
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Messages
1,086
Thank you Shortline for your comprehensive reply.

It leaves three follow-up questions for me, if you still have the energy to answer them.

1. When dispatchers talk about knowing someone will give them a good move, what does that mean? That the engineer gets the train up to track speed quickly or that the conductor gets them in and out of stations quickly or both?

2. Do engineers get promoted to conductor or are these just different career paths? Or does that depend on the railroad and the union?

3. The other question is -- where do conductors of freight train sit and what do they do most of the time? It would seem they would have a lot less stuff to do as they have no passengers to worry about, but there must be something I'm overlooking.
1. I'm not familiar with the term "a good move", but I suspect, as you do, that it means the DS knows which crews tend to move, and which tend to drag their feet a little bit. Not sure how it would extend to Amtrak exactly, they tend to move in my experience, but for a freight crew, there are countless ways to hold up the works. Some crews are more interested in an early quit than others, and some are not real good at estimating how much time a particlar activity may take-and in time, the DS tends to know the personalities and abilities of various crews-Such that, if two crews made an identical request to make a move, or get time, the DS might give it to one guy, who in the DS's experience will do his thing and get clear, vs the guy who has stuck the DS with problems in the past-As an example, if you ask the DS for 30 minutes to do some switching, and it takes you 45, and other trains are now stacking up on you making more work for the DS, he'll be much less likely to give you "30 minutes" ever again, if he only has a margin of 40 minutes available! However, when you ask for 30 minutes, and clear up consistently in 30 minutes, he'll be much more likley to trust you in the future.

2. It's now actually the other way around (at least on the Freight side of the world-Not sure how it works at Amtrak, the only Engineers I know there, got hired as experienced freight engineers with AMTK, but I assume some AMTK Conductors go to Engine Service as well?). In the past, it was two separate career paths-You either hired out in Train Service, as a Brakeman/Switchman, and eventually got promoted to a Conductor, or you hired out as a Fireman, in Engine Service, and eventually got promoted to Engineer. With the elimination of Brakemen/Switchmen/Firemen (for the most part...some jobs still have 3 man crews) the progression changed. Now you hire out in Train Service, as a Conductor Trainee, mark up as a Conductor, and after a period of time depending on the needs of the RR (usually between 1 and 5 years) you go to Engineer School, and start working up the Engineer ranks. So, in todays world, the person in charge of the train (Conductor) is often the less experienced member of the crew. (though, there are still some old heads out there who hired on in the 70's and 80's under the old system, who are not forced to go to engine school.

3. Freight train Conductors, on road trains and most locals ride the head end in the locomotive, on the left side of most locomotives. Typically there is only an Engineer, and Conductor on board. Some Locals/Road Switchers/Switch jobs/Yard Jobs, the Conductor doesn't ride the locomotive, but rather spends his time on the ground, throwing switches, coupling cars, tying hand brakes, etc. In some cases a yard van will be available to drive him around (and some RR's have vehicles available for the CO to drive himself) to help speed up the process. Yard/Local/Road Switcher Conductors typically have a lot of walking/climbing/working to do. They stay busy, and get dirty-the trade off is, they usually have fairly regular hours, vs being on call like the road crews are. Road train Conductors on the other hand, have it pretty easy for the most part, except never knowing when they're going to work most of the time. Other than calling signals, communicating restrictions with the Engineer, and talking to the Dispatcher and othe trains, they really are along for the ride, as a second set of eyes up front.

Hope that helps,
 
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AutoTrDvr

OBS Chief
Joined
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Messages
623
Thank you Shortline for your comprehensive reply.

It leaves three follow-up questions for me, if you still have the energy to answer them.

1. When dispatchers talk about knowing someone will give them a good move, what does that mean? That the engineer gets the train up to track speed quickly or that the conductor gets them in and out of stations quickly or both?

2. Do engineers get promoted to conductor or are these just different career paths? Or does that depend on the railroad and the union?

3. The other question is -- where do conductors of freight train sit and what do they do most of the time? It would seem they would have a lot less stuff to do as they have no passengers to worry about, but there must be something I'm overlooking.
1. I'm not familiar with the term "a good move", but I suspect, as you do, that it means the DS knows which crews tend to move, and which tend to drag their feet a little bit. Not sure how it would extend to Amtrak exactly, they tend to move in my experience, but for a freight crew, there are countless ways to hold up the works. Some crews are more interested in an early quit than others, and some are not real good at estimating how much time a particlar activity may take-and in time, the DS tends to know the personalities and abilities of various crews-Such that, if two crews made an identical request to make a move, or get time, the DS might give it to one guy, who in the DS's experience will do his thing and get clear, vs the guy who has stuck the DS with problems in the past-As an example, if you ask the DS for 30 minutes to do some switching, and it takes you 45, and other trains are now stacking up on you making more work for the DS, he'll be much less likely to give you "30 minutes" ever again, if he only has a margin of 40 minutes available! However, when you ask for 30 minutes, and clear up consistently in 30 minutes, he'll be much more likley to trust you in the future.

2. It's now actually the other way around (at least on the Freight side of the world-Not sure how it works at Amtrak, the only Engineers I know there, got hired as experienced freight engineers with AMTK, but I assume some AMTK Conductors go to Engine Service as well?). In the past, it was two separate career paths-You either hired out in Train Service, as a Brakeman/Switchman, and eventually got promoted to a Conductor, or you hired out as a Fireman, in Engine Service, and eventually got promoted to Engineer. With the elimination of Brakemen/Switchmen/Firemen (for the most part...some jobs still have 3 man crews) the progression changed. Now you hire out in Train Service, as a Conductor Trainee, mark up as a Conductor, and after a period of time depending on the needs of the RR (usually between 1 and 5 years) you go to Engineer School, and start working up the Engineer ranks. So, in todays world, the person in charge of the train (Conductor) is often the less experienced member of the crew. (though, there are still some old heads out there who hired on in the 70's and 80's under the old system, who are not forced to go to engine school.

3. Freight train Conductors, on road trains and most locals ride the head end in the locomotive, on the left side of most locomotives. Typically there is only an Engineer, and Conductor on board. Some Locals/Road Switchers/Switch jobs/Yard Jobs, the Conductor doesn't ride the locomotive, but rather spends his time on the ground, throwing switches, coupling cars, tying hand brakes, etc. In some cases a yard van will be available to drive him around (and some RR's have vehicles available for the CO to drive himself) to help speed up the process. Yard/Local/Road Switcher Conductors typically have a lot of walking/climbing/working to do. They stay busy, and get dirty-the trade off is, they usually have fairly regular hours, vs being on call like the road crews are. Road train Conductors on the other hand, have it pretty easy for the most part, except never knowing when they're going to work most of the time. Other than calling signals, communicating restrictions with the Engineer, and talking to the Dispatcher and othe trains, they really are along for the ride, as a second set of eyes up front.

Hope that helps,
I think also that requirements to "stay current' as an engineer are different, IIRC. I used to ride home a lot with the most senior conductor (at the time) on NJ Transit (he is no longer with us now). He told me that engineers have to renew their licenses annually. They have to come to the appointment, lay their license on the table, and if they pass, they get it back. If they don't pass..... :(
 

Shortline

Conductor
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That s the recertification process. As you said, an annual check ride, plus every 3 years engineers must be re-certified. It's a lot more than just a test though. Conductors will soon be in a similar situation as part 242 of 49CFR takes effect,in stages over the next year or so. Basically it's going to be a similar process of certifying conductors, along the same lines as Engineer certification.
 
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VentureForth

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I've always felt that there needs to be a passenger conductor and an operations conductor on a passenger train. One case comes to mind in the Metrolink disaster in Chatsworth. Multiple sources reported that the conductor "called the signals", but he can't see them from the coach of a train while lifting tickets.

As for Amtrak, I believe most LD trains operate with two engineers in the cab, but the communications still follow old railroading - the passenger conductor or assistant calls the defect detectors and signals.
 

none

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Messages
1,047
The simplest analogy:

I am the driver. I think I am in charge of the car. But I know better. She is the one really in charge.
And it seems to be the converse model to airlines where the "pilot/driver/Capt." *is* the boss. I recall when airlines used to have the equivalent of an "OBS Chief," (International flights might still have an "International Service Manager"). But the Pilot/Capt. was still the boss.

Which, up until I had ridden the Alaska Railroad in 1996, I also thought was the case with trains (i.e. the "engineer" was the boss). The "conductor" and I had a nice little chat (oddly enough) on the one and only "bustitution" I've ever had to endure ( a track issue 3hrs into a ride to Anchorage from Denali Natl. Pk). He explained that the conductor is the boss.

I always thought (but this obviously would not apply to freight trains), that the conductor is the boss due to the engineer's isolation from the rest of the train and the passengers. Sometimes, the conductor needing to facilitate "manager like" interactions with the passengers (i.e. "enforcing rules/conduct" etc.), Technically, an airline pilot is able to do this, although I would suspect/hope that modern security procedures try to minimize either pilot being out of the cockpit except to use the "facilities" or during a "shift change" on a long international flight.

Thankfully, we now have AU.... where the engineers are the boss! :D :p :D
I find the comparison to ships interesting, where the captain has full responsibilities for movements as well as all other crew members, safety, and liability. This applies to all vessels, military and civilian.

The engineer, if there is one, often can't see where the vessel is going, and can only follow direct orders from the captain as to speed and directions (ahead and astern). And often, a helmsman will steer, under direct supervision of the captain.
 

Anderson

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A worthwhile question: I've seen a conductor calling a spot at RVR (I was getting off and I happened to be at the right door to hear), and the conductor was giving the engineer a running tally of the remaining distance (3 car lengths, 2 car lengths, etc.). Now, I know that the conductor is responsible for this call, but what happens if there's either a drunk/disorderly passenger that needs...er...tending to as a stop is approaching and/or the conductor screws up the spot? Does the engineer "have" to overshoot the station?
 

Shortline

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When an engineer is being directed On a shove move he is required to stop in 1/2 the last distance given unless additional instructions are received. In many cases, it could be a lot worse than missing a platform if communication is lost and they keep going.

And by law, the person directing a shove move cannot perform any other duties while protecting a shove move.

TRH iphone
 
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leemell

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I've always felt that there needs to be a passenger conductor and an operations conductor on a passenger train. One case comes to mind in the Metrolink disaster in Chatsworth. Multiple sources reported that the conductor "called the signals", but he can't see them from the coach of a train while lifting tickets.

As for Amtrak, I believe most LD trains operate with two engineers in the cab, but the communications still follow old railroading - the passenger conductor or assistant calls the defect detectors and signals.
Well I can't speak for most, the SWC that I rode twice out of LA had a single engineer and a conductor.
 

Anderson

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When an engineer is being directed On a shove move he is required to stop in 1/2 the last distance given unless additional instructions are received. In many cases, it could be a lot worse than missing a platform if communication is lost and they keep going.

And by law, the person directing a shove move cannot perform any other duties while protecting a shove move.

TRH iphone
What is the definition of a shove move?
 

jis

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As for Amtrak, I believe most LD trains operate with two engineers in the cab, but the communications still follow old railroading - the passenger conductor or assistant calls the defect detectors and signals.
Well I can't speak for most, the SWC that I rode twice out of LA had a single engineer and a conductor.
Actually mostly it is a single engineer on LD trains. It depends on the length of the territory. If the total hours required is beyond a threshold there are two engineers. But most territories are short enough to require only one engineer.
 

AutoTrDvr

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I find the comparison to ships interesting, where the captain has full responsibilities for movements as well as all other crew members, safety, and liability. This applies to all vessels, military and civilian.

The engineer, if there is one, often can't see where the vessel is going, and can only follow direct orders from the captain as to speed and directions (ahead and astern). And often, a helmsman will steer, under direct supervision of the captain.
I can't explain why each vehicle has a different management hierarchy. I attribute it mostly to history/tradition, and ships have been around a lot longer than trains. I attribute the airlines as, basically, copycatting ships (i.e. witness "air ships/dirigibles," etc, and in the late 1960's, the "Star Ship" :p ).

In the case of both aircraft and ships (star or otherwise), the "engineer" tends strictly to the functioning of the engines and mechanical aspects of the vessel/aircraft (back when aircraft had engineers). In fact, on some larger ships, the "Chief Engineer" (the proscribed USCG title for said position) often has the same service rank as the "Captain," the USCG license hierarchy being different for each.But the Captain or "Master" (the USGG title for that position) is still the boss. There is even a 3rd USCG hierarchy for "pilotage." But usually all 1st class pilots are USCG masters.

Speaking of "Star Ships," I always thought that "Scottie" got screwed, since he never had the rank of "Chief Engineer" (same rank as Captain). But I guess Bill Shatner would have griped about that! <_< I suppose they tried to rectify that in ST #3 (SFS), but that didn't work out... :eek:hboy:
 

Ryan

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When an engineer is being directed On a shove move he is required to stop in 1/2 the last distance given unless additional instructions are received. In many cases, it could be a lot worse than missing a platform if communication is lost and they keep going.

And by law, the person directing a shove move cannot perform any other duties while protecting a shove move.

TRH iphone
What is the definition of a shove move?
Where the train is backing up and the engineer in the locomotive is in the "back".

In other words, most likely not the situation you're describing. Conductors spot the train at most stops, but I would imagine that a qualified engineer with some experience could get the train stopped somewhere around the platform if necessary.
 

Trogdor

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5,410
A worthwhile question: I've seen a conductor calling a spot at RVR (I was getting off and I happened to be at the right door to hear), and the conductor was giving the engineer a running tally of the remaining distance (3 car lengths, 2 car lengths, etc.). Now, I know that the conductor is responsible for this call, but what happens if there's either a drunk/disorderly passenger that needs...er...tending to as a stop is approaching and/or the conductor screws up the spot? Does the engineer "have" to overshoot the station?
Most of the time, before the train gets into the station, the conductor will radio to the engineer and tell them what car they'll be working to load/unload, so the engineer will have some idea of where they'll be spotting the train even if, for some reason, the conductor doesn't give car counts.
 

Ispolkom

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Strife between conductors and engineers is legend.
Heck, my mother has often described how wives of engineers (I grew up in a railroad town) would condescend to wives of conductors. Since my Dad taught school, he was, fortunately, in a different hierarchy.
 

Anderson

Conductor
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Nov 16, 2010
Messages
9,564
When an engineer is being directed On a shove move he is required to stop in 1/2 the last distance given unless additional instructions are received. In many cases, it could be a lot worse than missing a platform if communication is lost and they keep going.

And by law, the person directing a shove move cannot perform any other duties while protecting a shove move.

TRH iphone
What is the definition of a shove move?
Where the train is backing up and the engineer in the locomotive is in the "back".

In other words, most likely not the situation you're describing. Conductors spot the train at most stops, but I would imagine that a qualified engineer with some experience could get the train stopped somewhere around the platform if necessary.
Well, I'm imagining that there's a double incentive for them to do so if for no other reason than the horror stories I've heard about getting the freights to sign off on a backup move, no matter how short (mainly from the VRE, but I know they're not the only ones with this sort of problem).
 
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