Posted by: bgtwindad | November 10, 2010

Operations: Thinking Out Loud

It occurred to me this morning that one of the reasons I don’t post very often is that I have this mental hangup that I need to have some thing “finished” to “present” in order to have a blog entry.  That’s not really so.  I just have to have something to say that may be of interest to my reader.  In fact, having some “unfinished” things as blog entries may actually be better because it gives something for my reader to give input on, rather than being passive.

Today’s topic, and I expect it to be an ongoing series, is about an operations plan.  I’ve posted a little bit in the past on this, but not much.  Basically, I would like to have what amounts to a daily timetable showing which trains run where, when, around which I can create an operating session plan to follow.  In the words of Admiral Painter in The Hunt for Red October, “The Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.”  Neither do the railroads.

First we need to define where “here” and “there” are.  For now, we have four trips to make:

  • The Town Branch, to pick up products and set off supplies.
  • The Mine Branch, to drop off empties and pick up coal loads.
  • Russell, KY, to drop off Westbound traffic (or anything CSX-bound)
  • Williamson, WV, to drop off Eastbound traffic (or anything NS-bound)

For the time being we will ignore bridge traffic between Russell and Williamson, and we will ignore traffic to/from Chestnut Hill and Frost River as well.

Now, let’s assume that the big railroads aren’t going to bother sending trains down to Glover’s Bend to make deliveries, and so we will have to go to their yards to interchange.  So that’s (at least) one trip per day to each town, not counting coal runs (we’ll just set them aside, too, for the moment).  We want to take outbound stuff out and bring inbound stuff back so that we’re running full trains both ways (minimizing MTs).

Oh, for the non-railroad-geek, a few abbreviations and “lingo” terms:

  • “Turn” – a regular trip out and back to a given location.
  • “MT” – short for “empty car”.  Also “MTY”.
  • “SO” – “Set out”.  To remove a car from a train and leave it, usually at an interchange, for someone else to PK or for some other purpose.
  • “PK” – “Pick up”.  To pick up a car that has been SO.
  • “Spot” (n) – a designated location to place a car for loading, unloading, or some other purpose. (v) – to place a car for loading/unloading/etc. at a spot.
  • “Interchange” (n) a common siding or yard where two railroads trade cars. (v) The act of passing a car or cars from one railroad to another, usually at an interchange location.
  • “A/D Track” – the yard track to and from which trains (usually) Arrive and Depart.

There will be plenty more of those as we go along.  Back to the subject at hand.

Let’s pretend for a moment we only have two things to do… Interchange at Russell, and switching the Town Branch.  It’s a little hard to talk about an ongoing process, so let’s assume this is a once daily cycle, and it’s Tuesday.  A few rules:

  • Our local customers want their supplies in the morning, and want to load their shipments at the end of the day.
  • CSX can have our deliveries whenever, but they only want to fool with us daily.
  • By convention, “deliveries” are things coming into Glover’s Bend from elsewhere, and “shipments” are leaving Glover’s Bend for the world at large.

So here’s the base scheme:

  • Tuesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Tuesday deliveries and picks up Monday shipments.
  • Tuesday PM: Russell Turn takes Monday shipments to Russell, and returns with Wednesday deliveries.
  • Wednesday AM: Town Branch Turn makes Wednesday deliveries and picks up Tuesday shipments.

And so the pattern repeats.

Let’s make up some names (or acronyms) for the trains, as a shorthand:

  • “TBT” – Town Branch Turn
  • “RT” – Russell Turn
  • “WT” – Williamson Turn
  • “MBT” – Mine Branch Turn
  • “RCT” – Russell Coal Train
  • “WCT” – Williamson Coal Train

To make it even more interesting, let’s put a schedule around this.  For simplicity, let’s allot 2 hours round trip for each local run, and an hour to do the associated switching to build a train.  Russell, KY is about 85 miles from Glover’s Bend, which is a six hour round trip at 30mph average, plus another hour to switch the interchange.  We end up with something like this, just for the TBT and RT:

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY

We have a 5.5 hour window in the afternoon, but we need to handle traffic to Williamson as well.  So let’s introduce another train in the afternoon.  Williamson is much closer than Russell, so let’s assume the trip to Williamson takes 1 hour round trip, plus our customary hour for switching the interchange.

  • 8:00AM : TBT departs for town.
  • 10:00AM : TBT returns from town
  • 10:00-11:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 11:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 12:30-1:30PM: Switcher builds WT
  • 1:30PM: WT departs for Williamson
  • 3:30PM: WT returns from Williamson
  • 3:30PM-4:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 4:30-5:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 6:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 6:00PM-7:00PM: Switcher finishes building tomorrow’s TBT.

Whew!  An eleven hour day for the yard crew, but they get an hour for lunch and an hour long afternoon break.

But wait!  We can do better, I think!  Our local customers aren’t getting their morning deliveries until around 9:00, give or take, when they’ve been sitting in the yard all night long!  What if we run the TBT at the end of the day, and shift the schedule accordingly?

  • 8:00-9:00 AM : Switcher builds RT.
  • 9:00AM : RT departs for Russell, KY
  • 9:30-10:30AM Switcher builds WT
  • 10:30AM: WT departs from Williamson
  • 11:30-12:30PM: Lunch Break
  • 1:30PM: WT returns from Williamson (extra hour for crew lunch)
  • 1:30PM-2:30PM: Switcher clears the A/D track for the expected RT and pre-switches Williamson cars for tomorrow’s TBT.
  • 2:30-3:30PM: Afternoon break.
  • 4:00PM: RT returns from Russell, KY
  • 4:00PM-5:00PM: Switcher finishes building TBT.
  • 5:00PM : TBT departs for town.
  • 7:00PM : TBT returns from town

Now, our customers still have a full day to load their shipments, but they get Wednesday’s deliveries on Tuesday afternoon, not Wednesday.  And here’s another benefit.  The (day) yard crew can knock off at 5:00 when the TBT departs.  The TBT crew, on return, can drop the cars on the A/D track and park their engine without help, ready for the yard crew to start again the next morning.

If the night shift needs the A/D track, they can stow the TBT train or go ahead and switch it.

What about the coal trains?  Well, the vast bulk of the coal hauled will go directly from the mine to either Russell or Williamson.  We have two choices.  Either the trains can literally run directly to the two destinations, being switched at the mine, or we can handle the coal switching on the night shift.

The catch is that we only have 3 yard tracks unless we tie up the outer main.  At night maybe we can use the outer main for an hour or two to sort cars.

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