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Ask Trains from December 2007

This month: Horsepower-hours - VIA frequencies - Smoke deflectors
Published: October 31, 2008
Q What arrangements are made for one railroad's motive power to roam on another's trackage?
-- Tom H. Seaney, Cherry Hill, N.J.

A Two popular arrangements lead to one railroad's locomotives powering another railroad's train: run-through power agreements and repayment of horsepower-hours. These methods are more efficient for train operations by reducing locomotive dwell time and customer traffic delay. For example, Union Pacific and CSX have teamed up to run a North Platte, Neb., to Selkirk, N.Y., train
(QNPSK on UP rails, Q390 when on CSX rails), and as part of that train's operations, the UP power (equipped with prerequisite cab signals across Iowa and Illinois)
typically runs through, and is returned by CSX on Q351 (UP QSKNP) from Selkirk to the UP. This alleviates the UP from having to stage additional locomotives in Chicago, and eliminates congestion that would have resulted from swapping power at interchange. When Railroad A borrows locomotives from Railroad B, they are lent on a performance- use basis, or the horsepower-hour (hph). Railroads record how much horsepower is used and for how long. Thus, it is a matter of multiplying these numbers. For example, a 4,000-hp UP SD70M operating for two hours at full power runs up a charge of 8,000 hph on CSX rails. As a result, CSX is then indebted to UP and repays it by sending a locomotive to work off the hours owed, or if the indebted railroad cannot keep the horsepower-hours even, it can settle by monetary means.
-- Sayre C. Kos and Eric Hendrickson
Q On a recent VIA trip, I forgot my scanner. I heard the train engineer or conductor talking with car attendants through walkie-talkies. What channels do they use to communicate?
-- Tom Reed, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

A VIA head-end crews use whatever end-to-end/RTC channels are applicable on a given subdivision. As VIA does not have conductors, communication between the service manager on the tail end and locomotive engineer and in-charge
locomotive engineer on the head end is carried out by a separate radio
system. VIA service managers use AAR 6 (160.200). Host-road crews operate the Hudson Bay north of Thompson, the White River Budds between White River and Sudbury, and the Malahat on Vancouver Island. As these crews include conductors, they do not use the onboard service frequencies on these runs. Given that two of the three are RDC consists,
if the conductor's buzzer doesn't work and the radio dies, the tail end can walk up to the operating cab and holler, "Highball!"
-- John Godfrey
Q New York Central and Union Pacific had "elephant ears" near the front of some steam locomotives. What was the purpose of these devices?
-- Michael Meadows, Beckley, W.Va.

A These "elephant ears" are technically called smoke deflectors, smoke lifters, or smoke wings. NYC, UP, a few other North American roads, and many foreign railways installed these deflectors to channel air into currents that helped lift the smoke pouring out from the stack at the front and deflect it up and over the boiler. The benefits were two-fold: The deflectors helped to maintain a clear line of sight on the tracks ahead and also helped keep thecab clear of smoke.
-- Sayre C. Kos

Q With the advent of trains sans caboose, what would give an engineer an indication that a vehicle had struck his train after he had gone through a crossing?
-- Milton J. Smith II, Bakersfield, Calif.

A Though technology like distributed power and end-of-train telemetry has done much to advance the industry, crews often don't know right away if a collision has occurred deep in a train. Sometimes officials have informed crews of what transpired many miles ago upon arrival at a terminal, or other train crews performing "roll-by" inspections have noticed evidence of a crash. A collision will sometimes break air hoses apart, causing the train's emergency brakes
to apply.
-- Sayre C. Kos
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