Ask Trains from November 2008

This Month: Definition of running track - Passenger train speeds
Q In "Reading & Northern" [pages 42-49, Trains, June 2008], author Scott A. Hartley uses the term "running track." What defines a "running track," as opposed to a branch or main line?
- Don McFadden, Hendersonville, N.C.

A Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee defines running track as "a designated track on which movements may be made by signal indication or at restricted speed under authority of an employee designated in the timetable."

Whereas NORAC's rules require movements on some types of tracks to follow signal indication or require written authority, trains can operate on running tracks with just verbal permission of the employee who governs movements on that track.

Reading & Northern, one of 55 member railroads that use the NORAC rulebook, designates its dispatcher as the authority who controls all running tracks. Other employees could be assigned this responsibility under a railroad's timetable. R&N's signal systems are only on its main line, so trains on running tracks must operate at restricted speed (movements not to exceed 20 mph and at a speed to permit stopping within one-half of the range of vision). The railroad's timetable limits most of its running tracks to 10 mph. R&N, like many other railroad members, designates low-density outer ends of its routes as running tracks.
- Scott A. Hartley
Q During 1937-50, Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad used five engines, named for Southern Civil War generals. What was their disposition when the RF&P switched over to diesel power?
- G.D. Nelson, Creve Coeur, Mo.

A The five 4-8-4s were ordered by the RF&P from Baldwin and put in service in 1937. The "Generals" weighed 466,040 pounds and had a tractive effort of 66,500 pounds. All five were sold for scrap in April 1952. Alco S2 switchers were the first diesels owned by the RF&P. They went into service in 1942. EMD E-8s, F-7s and GP-7s started service in 1949 and 1950. The last 4-8-4 saw service on Jan. 3, 1954. For more, see
- Eric Powell
Q Why is the usual passenger-train maximum speed 79 mph? - Ken Marx, Fort Worth, Texas

A The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled in 1951 that train speeds in excess of 79 mph are permitted only where Automatic Train Stop, Automatic Train Control, or cab signals are in use.

Into the 1970s, for example, speeds on the Illinois Central reached 100 mph in ATC cab
signal territory south of Champaign, Ill. When the railroad converted this doubletrack
speedway to single-track, bidirectional CTC, it removed the cab signaling. Thus, Amtrak's City of New Orleans is back to 79 mph on what is now the Canadian National.

Today, portions of California corridors and the Amtrak-owned Michigan and Northeast corridors have systems that cut power and apply the brakes if the engineer does not comply to a restrictive signal indication. Maximum speeds on these lines begin at 90 mph and top out at 150 mph for Acela Express trains on short track segments in New England. - Mark W. Jones, Amtrak locomotive engineer, and Bob Johnston
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BNSF Railway's Willow Springs Intermodal Yard 


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