Sunday, October 24, 2010

End of the story -- maybe.

(See the prior two posts for the first emails.)

One week later . . .


A quick follow-up: Yesterday afternoon I approached Bloomington from the south (commuting home this time) to see the gates coming down. A train slowly moved across the highway, again from east to west, and stopped after only about a dozen railcars had passed the highway. I had a strong sense of déjà-vu.

However, THIS time the train was only stopped for 3-4 minutes before it began backing up (ONE song on the radio). It cleared the intersection promptly and traffic moved on.

The contrast was stark. This was to me the way it ought to happen (IF the railroad has no choice but to switch cars across a highway intersection, a practice I would hope UP would try to avoid if it could). Now granted, this was almost certainly a MUCH shorter train. But the length of time elapsed while it was stopped also seemed appropriate and prudent.

I don’t intend to re-open a dialogue that I think is completed — just to let you know that RR crossing delays of moderate duration are expected and at worst usually only a source of mild irritation. Also there was MUCH less traffic at 3:45 pm than during the morning commute.

Thanks again for “listening.”

John Earle

Mr. Earle,

The size of the train absolutely plays a role, as do the different crews. Our employees must have a detailed "job briefing" on the moves to be made to ensure a safe operation. When you are dealing with a smaller train or cut of cars, it reduces the complexity of the moves and thus the job briefing required (how many tracks will the cars go into, how many switches will be lined, how long will the move take, etc.). I hope this helps...

Ivan Jaime


I guess.

I don't plan to write him again.

I DID copy those phone numbers he provided (including his direct line!) into my cell phone contacts.

I'm disappointed that he never addressed my question about why the train couldn't move completely through (past) the intersection and THEN stop for 12 minutes to conduct their briefing, allowing road traffic to proceed.

Or my seemingly obvious but unwritten question: Why wait until the train is stopped across a highway and blocking all morning commute and school traffic, and THEN conduct your briefing? Why not stop the train short of the intersection, brief everybody, then pull forward, stop, and immediately reverse?

Unfortunately the answer is probably this: The railroad's priorities have nothing to do with traffic flow, and everything to do with moving their freight safely. This is not wrong, per se, but it seems to me that there are ways to accomplish their objectives while "operations managers try to handle their business with as limited an impact on the community as possible."

If anyone reading this knows someone who works for a railroad and would like to correct my misconceptions, please feel free to weigh in. Absent that, I'm left with the impression that Union Pacific really doesn't care as much about their "impact on the community" as they would like us to believe.

Am I being unfair?


kenju said...

No, you are not - and you are probably right in your assumption.

Abhay said...

Dear John,

I stumbled upon your blog about Needle Coke, which is dated 2006. It is very informative indeed and you seem to have lot of knowledge of this material. I was wondering if you could help me with this.

What is Calcined Pitch Needle Coke - Grade LPC-US means. Where can I find the specifications for this grade?

Would little bit of rust, plastic, paint render this product useless? Where can I find transportation and storage requirements for this product.

Thank you for your time.

Duke_of_Earle said...


The needle coke I wrote about is petroleum needle coke, made from decant oil. Pitch coke is usually made from coal, or coal tar pitch, and is a lower grade of coke suitable for smaller electrodes or anodes. I know almost nothing about pitch coke.

To get the answers you are looking for, I'd suggest you Google Calcined Pitch Needle Coke and contact either a supplier or a user of the product for specs.

I do know that for OUR needle coke, any contamination from rust, paint, or plastic would render it useless for UHP (ultra high power) electrodes, but I don't know how critical contamination might be for pitch coke uses.

Sorry I'm not much help.

Abhay said...

Thank you John. Much appreciated.