[The following is an email exchange I had with a coworker last year. Names have been changed. “A99” is Shady Grove Yard]:
The tower called this afternoon and reported switches 63 and 77 out of correspondence.
Sam went to the tower to throw the switches while the rest of us went wayside.
When we arrived at the switches the tower reported switch 63 back in correspondence, so we started looking at switch 77. I saw 77A throw opposite to the requested call. I opened the cover and found the sprocket pin out of correspondence with the point detector cam. The switch had been trailed.
I got a switch point clamp and borrowed Sam’s large adjustable wrench to force the points back in correspondence. No damage found, obstruction test OK.
I asked Sam to exercise switch 63 and found 63B throwing opposite to the requested call. I opened the cover and found that 63B had been trailed. I walked to 63A, opened the cover and found that it had been trailed, too.
In 27 years I don’t remember having more than one switch trailed in one day before, but today we had three. Not only that, but they couldn’t have been trailed by one train movement. The points of 77A and 63B face each other. The points of 63B and 63A face opposite directions and they are on different tracks, of course.
The train(s) that trailed the three switches must have passed three different red signals and must have made at least two, and more likely, three, movements.
I told Sam to report everything to MOC, because it’s likely that word of the incidents will spread anyway.
I suspect that some interlocking operators know how to keep trains moving after yard switches have been trailed. Sam said he saw a route cleared across switch 63 when he entered the tower.
If the switch is already in the position required for the route, the signal can be cleared. Route completion circuits will lock the switch before it can complete its throw to the wrong position.
If the switch is not in the position required for the route, placing the opposite call on the switch will throw it to the required position, then the signal can be cleared.
Sneaky interlocking operators!
I can’t recall what the data recording situation is at A99 now. Is there any? If so, is it just for the newer section or the entire yard?
There’s no working event recorder.
Keep me posted on the details. What would make it really interesting would be if it was one operator, a single train, and 2 or 3 separate movements. Let’s say the progressive discipline calls for termination after the third trailed switch. I wonder how management would handle that?
Management doesn’t seem to care. I checked the Maximo incident reports and there wasn’t anything for trailed switches at A99. Years ago there would have been a big investigation and suspensions. Perhaps Metro is so short of operators that they overlook things like this, and/or management knows they have no evidence to prove who was involved (but, to my knowledge, no one bothered to ask for a printout from the event recorder).
Even if management wanted to suspend those involved, there’s no way to determine when or which trains trailed the switches.
How did management determine who was responsible ‘back in the day’? I know that for years we had the old dot-matrix printer, but I seem to recall big dust-ups over derailments and operators going for drug tests even after we no longer had a working event recorder. Didn’t you and I help Bubba with an investigation a few years ago?
From the event record you could determine the track the train came from and the time. I think the tower is supposed to keep a written record of train movements. Between the two records you could determine who was responsible.
I think that the event recorder has been down for at least five years.
Also, I thought there was a ‘trailed switch alarm’ that was sent to MOC and/or OCC. I guess not.
The VPI controlled switches have a trailed switch alarm that lights up in the TCR and on the yard control panel (I think), but would anyone pay attention to it and report it?
Oh well — it’s only a couple operators getting in the habit of blowing past red signals…what’s the problem, right?
Remember before the Fort Totten wreck I said that Metro was really going down hill and I hoped we could get out before something terrible happened?
Now I just hope that the next terrible thing doesn’t happen before October 1.
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