Friday, October 22, 2010

The rest of the exchange

(See the prior post for the lead-in letter.)

Hello Mr. Earle,

First, let me apologize for your experience last Thursday and for your thoughtful email below. I will look into the matter and ask my counterpart in Houston to contact you soon to discuss the issue further. I will not attempt to answer each of your questions, until we learn exactly what happened that day. In short, there are many scenarios which may have played out. It does in fact take a decent amount of time to stop a train, line a switch, and get it moving again. Moreover, only Signal employees or police officers may lift a gate to allow vehicular traffic to proceed.

We will get back with you soon. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in the mean time. Thank you.

Ivan Jaime

Mr. Jaime,

Thanks for the prompt response.

I have wondered in the past if it was legal for railroad employees to hold up the gates, although perhaps they were “Signal” employees. It seems to me that the potential liability could be huge if a mistake were made. Next time gates appear stuck perhaps motorists should call the closest law enforcement office. But in this case that would have been the Victoria County Sheriff’s office, at least 20 minutes away and not a good solution.

I suppose my only remaining question involves the need to move so much of a train so slowly across a highway intersection and then, after a 12-minute stoppage, back it up even more slowly until it clears. The only answer that presents itself to me is, assuming a switch was being lined up, that the location of the switch was so close to the intersection that the train had to proceed that far to clear the switch. If that is the case, likely relocating the switch is not feasible and there is no good solution for this occasional problem. Or, just a thought here, perhaps during prime commuting time the entire train could be moved through the intersection and then stopped for 12 minutes while traffic flowed. Then the train could back up across the intersection and through the lined-up switch and again clear the intersection. Maybe? But perhaps there was other rail traffic invisible to me that prevented this solution as well.

And it’s also likely that UP doesn’t have the option of scheduling these road closures at some time other than prime commute time. If it did, the middle of the night would seem ideal. But obviously you can’t schedule all your switching activities at night. So I suppose the situation is not the result of inattention or lack of caring by UP at all.

It really isn’t necessary to provide me with a more detailed explanation of the events of that day. I feel better for having vented to you.

Thanks again for listening/reading.

John Earle

Mr. Earle,

It is interesting that you nailed pretty much what happened. After digging a bit deeper, it appears that there was a long train moving from Houston to the border that had to "set-out" half of its rail cars at the Bloomington Yard. After moving past the switch, the crew had to line the switch and have a proper job briefing of the move to be made. They then made the move back into the yard, at which time the gates got stuck. We don't expect this to happen very frequently, and rest assured that our operations managers try to handle their business with as limited an impact on the community as possible.

I'd like to leave you with a few telephone numbers just in case. You may feel free to dial (800) 848.8715 to report malfunctioning gate signals, blocked crossings, or any other situation that you may encounter with the railroad. If you have an immediate emergency, you may instead dial (888) 877.7267, which will connect you to our emergency command center. Finally, you can always call me if you need to vent or if you have any general questions. My contact information is below.

Again, thank you for your patience and understanding. Have a great week.

Ivan Jaime

You'll notice he didn't address a few of my suggestions. There was a bit more follow up from this week. I'll share that tomorrow.

1 comment:

kenju said...

Good luck with that, John. I will be interested in the next response.