SSLs used as axle count cars

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Trogdor

BURNiNATOR
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,928
Location
Here
Really if you need a minimum number of triggering axel cars to trigger the crossing alarms gates -
I think the way the freight railroads get away this with a hundred of so cars in a freight consist who the hell is going to challenge a moving train at a crossing

A person waiting for a train at a crossing has no idea of the number of cars in the consist. At best, they can see the first couple of cars or so. Nonetheless, folks who challenge trains at crossings aren’t doing any calculations anyway. But that’s not what the axle count requirement in this thread is about.

Anyway this axel thing puzzles me - having only read about it a few posts/threads ago - - -
The faster a train travels - the more time is needed for the crossing gates to close in time to clear ordinary routine traffic from danger.
Logically the triggering points need to move further away for faster trains for this to happen - - -
and obviously a parked train at a crossing needs to disable that function until moving again.
You can't factor in ignorance of the traffic control devices - "Stupid is what stupid does - or tries to do"

The origin of the axle count restriction on CN dates back to the mid-2000s or so, when two separate incidents a short time apart (one in Illinois on the Illini/Saluki, and one in Michigan on the Blue Water) involved fatal grade crossing collisions where it was demonstrated upon investigation that the crossing gates failed to activate for those particular occurrences. It had nothing to do with the speed of the train or location of the activation circuits (the speed limit on a section of track and the crossing circuits are related to each other, so if the speed limit was 79 mph, the circuits in theory should be timed for a 79 mph train; adding axles does not change this calculation since it is really only the front of the train that is relevant for this particular purpose).

At the time, the typical consist was three to four cars and a locomotive, so 16-24 axles. Following these incidents, CN required (IIRC) 32 axles.

I don’t know what led to the axle count restriction on UP in Missouri, or any other specific locations that led to axle count restrictions.

I assume this maintenance is not part of the Level of Utility agreement Amtrak has with host railroads (which, in theory, mean that they can’t just downgrade large sections of track because Amtrak has to be able to maintain the agreed upon schedule; I guess the same does not apply to consist requirements).

But for now, between the pandemic (and resulting staffing shortages) and the delays in getting expected equipment delivered (Siemens cars), plus the quasi-unexpected need (wasn’t in the long-term plan, so they had to punt in order to fulfill it) to replace four Talgo sets in the northwest with conventional cars, Amtrak is forced to find whatever they can that is rail-worthy to run at passenger speeds and run it on these routes. If they put a lounge on the Eagle, what car would they take off of the Eagle to legally run trains in Illinois? Or, what other route should lose a car? I would definitely believe there really aren’t any operable spares right now, and anything they can get running is going towards bringing back service on routes that had frequencies cut.

It’s definitely conceivable they could have done things differently in 2020 and 2021, but given that time machines don’t exist, and the question is what can be done right now, there really aren’t any good options.
 
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
1,386
I have what is probably a really stupid question which I could probably answer via google: obviously most freights are long enough to trigger the axle count, however, is there a weight component as well or is it purely axle count related?
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
372
Location
northwestern Montana
I have what is probably a really stupid question which I could probably answer via google: obviously most freights are long enough to trigger the axle count, however, is there a weight component as well or is it purely axle count related?

Some of each, but mostly axles.

Oversimplifying, you detect a train by applying electricity to the track and measuring the resistance between the two rails. If you have an open circuit, there is is nothing on the track, if you have a short circuit, you have a metal axle making contact with both rails.

If it rains, or a piece of baling wire falls across the rails, or whatever, you can get a false positive if your detection circuit is too sensitive.
If the track is rusty from disuse, or there are leaves on the track, or whatever, you can get a false negative if the detection circuit is not sensitive enough. (And under the right conditions "rusty enough to not conduct electricity" can happen overnight - dew moistens the rails or something.)

Normally even a single light car will be detected. On a bad day, *usually* the passage of a train will quickly scrape off the non-conducting material and trigger the track circuit just a few seconds late.

Fancy new equipment that has good suspension and doesn't pound the rails, doesn't scrape them when accelerating and decelerating, etc, is good for rail wear, but less good at rust removal than older equipment was.

Somebody, somewhere, has calculated that we have to be 99.however-many-nines % sure that the signals will activate, and decided that under certain circumstances, the 16 axles of one F40 and 3 Amfleets are not enough. I believe there were always rules that a Hi-Rail or a single light engine couldn't rely on the signals being activated, and that got extended to certain types of short trains -- or perhaps even only to certain types of passenger trains, since there are 100 times as many lives at risk when a passenger train has a serious accident than when a freight train does.
 
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
1,386
Some of each, but mostly axles.

Thanks for the extensive answer! I'd thought it was more about the crossing gates than the overall circuitry, but your explanation makes sense (and reminds me of people messing with drive-thru's by going through them with golf carts which don't trigger the sensors....).
 
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
1,147
Location
Central Florida
Thanks! Yep, I am a HUGE baseball fan and Truist is on the list in the next year or two - just not this trip!
Somebody, somewhere, has calculated that we have to be 99.however-many-nines % sure that the signals will activate, and decided that under certain circumstances, the 16 axles of one F40 and 3 Amfleets are not enough.
Informative, thanks. I guess lawyers rule!
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,857
Location
Denver
At the conclusion of a 6-week long strike at Edmonton Transit the union agreed to let us use management personnel to grind the crossing circuits on the last day of the strike. We took steeple cab electric 2001 out and ran back and forth over each crossing. Even though I was just the flagman it was a thrill for me, as the freight motor had been shipped to BC Electric from its original owner, Oregon Electric Railway, seven months before I was born in Portland. It's the only time that I've seen people cheering and waving at a level crossing. People were sick of the strike and happy to see us out there, although they may have wondered what we were doing. Neither the two equipment engineers nor myself (Marketing Officer) wore uniforms, just safety vests and winter clothing.
 

Trogdor

BURNiNATOR
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,928
Location
Here
Couldn’t Amtrak buy some “cheap” used boxcars to use as Axel count cars? Seems like an inexpensive, practical solution.

Boxcars are not going to be certified for passenger speeds, will not have the same braking system, and also won’t have the same rear-end equipment (marker lights, conductor platform for heading up backup moves, etc.). Plus you can’t put them anywhere else in the consist other than the rear because they won’t have HEP pass-through capability.

Also, if Amtrak’s problem is a lack of mechanical staff to maintain and repair equipment, why add a bunch of cars that are going to need their own maintenance routine when you’d be better off putting that staff towards fixing up passenger equipment?
 
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
503
Location
Frisco, TX
Boxcars are not going to be certified for passenger speeds, will not have the same braking system, and also won’t have the same rear-end equipment (marker lights, conductor platform for heading up backup moves, etc.). Plus you can’t put them anywhere else in the consist other than the rear because they won’t have HEP pass-through capability.

Also, if Amtrak’s problem is a lack of mechanical staff to maintain and repair equipment, why add a bunch of cars that are going to need their own maintenance routine when you’d be better off putting that staff towards fixing up passenger equipment?
I do agree with your statements. But as a way of looking forward, what about this. Buy/lease some single intermodal well cars, they are open, easy to work on, and already certified for at least 70 so bumping them to at least 79 shouldn’t be too hard. HEP lines could be added and they already have large platforms. Just drop a ballasted container in it and there you go. Shoot, maybe (and I know this is an absolutely crazy idea with today’s management) someone could figure out how to put some revenue loads in said containers and make some $$ off of the idea.

As for mechanical, yes Amtrak already needs to get of their seat meat and get people hired yesterday. The needs of Amtrak’s fleet is large, huge, and almost criminal in getting to this point. But putting all available and usable rolling stock (including the SSL’s) to revenue service would be a great use of available $’s.
 

Alice

Conductor
Joined
Mar 6, 2007
Messages
1,098
Location
California
I'm being snarky here since Amtrak significantly restricted private car trips a while back. Make a deal that, "we'll keep your car on the train end-to-end on a dedicated route for axle count, you can ride it or not, and we'll give you a special price."
 
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
887
Location
Brownsburg IN
The big question really is why the federal government isn’t forcing the host railroad to update their antiquated system? People have supposedly died because of it.

They don’t let car companies get away with that - they at least force them to issue recalls and correct the issues.

If they don’t wanna fix it, take away their license to be able to operate as a railroad. I’m sure there’s some sort of authorization that they have to get from the federal government in order to exist.
 
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
503
Location
Frisco, TX
Ignoring reality and proposing completely nonsensical schemes will get you nowhere.
It’s not nonsensical at all. Santa Fe ran the Super C’s at 79mph. So I’d be very surprised if there isn’t equipment out there that can‘t do those speeds today. Worst case, don’t run the HEP cables and run these cars on the rear. Also worst case, don’t find revenue. Either way it still free‘s up Superliners running empty.
 

Trogdor

BURNiNATOR
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,928
Location
Here
It’s not nonsensical at all. Santa Fe ran the Super C’s at 79mph. So I’d be very surprised if there isn’t equipment out there that can‘t do those speeds today. Worst case, don’t run the HEP cables and run these cars on the rear. Also worst case, don’t find revenue. Either way it still free‘s up Superliners running empty.

You’re still adding a bunch of cars that require modifications and maintenance, distracting from the bigger issue of needing to get passenger equipment back into running condition. The axle count restriction has been in place on these lines for around 15 years or so, but the issue of misusing lounges and whatnot is a relatively recent development because of the significant loss of mechanical manpower, combined with various other equipment shortages (caused by, among other things, said loss of mechanical staff, the delayed introduction of Venture cars, and the need to send several trainsets to Washington State to make up for the loss of Talgos). All of those have solutions that don’t require buying a bunch of random freight cars that have no other purpose on the Amtrak network and would require changes to operating practices, locomotive braking systems, etc.

When’s the last time a freight train in the US ran at 79 mph? As far as I can tell, it has been decades (the “Super C” you reference hasn’t run in 46 years). Why would it surprise you that equipment that hasn’t been needed in decades is either no longer in service, or hasn’t been maintained to a level needed to continue that performance capability?

During M&E days, isn't it true the 1400 cars were deemed nor track worthy, the 1500 cars had to have some sort of load to not be speed restricted, and were overly sensitive to substandard track?

IIRC, that is true. I don’t remember the details offhand, but a bunch of MHCs that Amtrak had were either embargoed or severely speed restricted because of a couple of derailments.
 

Devil's Advocate

🚂〰️〰️〰️〰️
Joined
May 24, 2010
Messages
13,304
Location
🇺🇸
Shoot, maybe (and I know this is an absolutely crazy idea with today’s management) someone could figure out how to put some revenue loads in said containers and make some $$ off of the idea.
Amtrak already tried that and it created an even more toxic environment with the freight hosts. Eventually they ended the program at a loss and refocused on their core functions. Maybe it's better to simply refocus on improved passenger services without another halfhearted trip into the rail freight market.

It’s not nonsensical at all. Santa Fe ran the Super C’s at 79mph. So I’d be very surprised if there isn’t equipment out there that can‘t do those speeds today. Worst case, don’t run the HEP cables and run these cars on the rear. Also worst case, don’t find revenue. Either way it still free‘s up Superliners running empty.
So far as I can tell the Super C was more of a halo product than a revenue positive service. It also operated under different rules and fuel prices than today. That is not to say that fast freight has no market but most of that traffic is handled by aircraft expedited trucking. I appreciate your willingness to put ideas up for debate though. Talking it through helps people understand how we got here.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
503
Location
Frisco, TX
When’s the last time a freight train in the US ran at 79 mph? As far as I can tell, it has been decades (the “Super C” you reference hasn’t run in 46 years). Why would it surprise you that equipment that hasn’t been needed in decades is either no longer in service, or hasn’t been maintained to a level needed to continue that performance capability?

I’m not saying they would use the absolute same cars as the Super C, that was a reference that IM equipment has done this before. I am saying that I don’t believe they used different or modified cars for the Super C and that of the IM equipment choices today (not 46 year old stuff) it is very possible that many wouldn’t have any issue running 79. If modifications were needed, then contract out the work. There are a number of shops capable doing this.
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 6, 2011
Messages
13,917
Location
Delaware
I’m not saying they would use the absolute same cars as the Super C, that was a reference that IM equipment has done this before. I am saying that I don’t believe they used different or modified cars for the Super C and that of the IM equipment choices today (not 46 year old stuff) it is very possible that many wouldn’t have any issue running 79. If modifications were needed, then contract out the work. There are a number of shops capable doing this.
I think Amtrak has better use for the money they got from Congress...like new passenger equipment, fixing the old equipment, fixing the infrastructure, etc.
 
Joined
Oct 7, 2018
Messages
503
Location
Frisco, TX
Nobody is arguing that it can’t be done.

The right question is “should it”, and the answer is a resounding “no”.
You can't just handwave "just increase the speed and add cables" and expect magic to happen.

So you literally did say that it can’t be done…but oh well.

Here I thought this post was about SSLs and other Superliners being used for axel count cars and suggestions were made for how to help out this situation. Especially when Amtrak is having a hard time getting enough cars on the road 5 days a week to fill out it’s current lower capacity trains. I’m not Amtrak management, neither are you, and I highly doubt they are trolling here looking for ideas on how to run the company.
 
Top