One Man Crews / PTC / RC Switching

JAMES SWIDERGAL wrote:

"Now onto more pressing business, My fellow rails what's your take and/or input on this Conductor certification program that the FRA, AAR, BLE/UTU are grappling with? Do you think it's another episode on how to save the conductors position, or perhaps it an overture attempt by the Carriers saying hey we got a handle on this PTC, and we're moving into the new millenium with RC that doesn't need the use of the human element?  Can this be the beginning of the end for the next generation of railroading as we know it. I do know that by certifying conductors as opposed to be company qualified will lead to more legaleze, as far as when reportable incidents occur, or is it another way to actually start fining both errant engineers and conductors when violations occur.

And it will be exciting to see what terminology is used and what if any pay varriances occur, when they decide on what actually is a certified conductor, it'll probably be something like ......." a certified conductor is a conductor who doesn't sleep when the locomotive is in motion" if the unions write the rule. (Just a little humor guys).

I mean to say I've set up some prototype computer models that can duplicate everything from the corridor managers job via dispatching, and actually can manipulate the working controls from point a to point b, Presently ,until gps transponders are allocated into the HEU and the EOT, and the remote switching and gps poition of same switches, I could see in the very near future (next 5 years) produce this kind of system and procuring freight rail service pretty much from one location. No need for a conductor and or engineer on the equipment.

Thus eliminating actual crews or at the onset reducing crews to a one man operation, of course people will be needed to string the air lines together,and perhaps to cut away,and make joints. But in the simplest computer modeling format (I haven't learned how to extensively write code yet but I'm learning) this type of railroading is there it's on the drawing board, and we all know from following Progressive Railroading that the Carriers' are investing in this electronic format more and more.

SO what you say? be waitin' on hearin' from y'all"

James I started a new discussion so this didn't get lost in the FRAKid v. the World in the Ultimate Cagematch on the other Forum.

I find the future interesting in regards to train operations.  Although not a union fan (not a hater), I have to say that even the route of some going to or leaning towards one man crews in the future seems unrealistic.

I think the industry reduction in crew base has been warranted and proven safe.  Think of the cost savings from 5-7 man crews down to 2.  I'm sure some of that gets pocketed by the high ranking officials, but certainly most of it would go to drive stocl prices up and reduce expenses to allow for capital improvements.  I'm comfortable saying that increased capital has certainly helped the rail industry...not saying it was at the cost of crew reductions though.

Now the item that does not make sense to me is that I think 2 man crew is the lowest you can go and do it 1) safely and 2) cost effectively.

From the cost side...what happens on a break in 2?  How do you repair a broken knuckle with only the engineer?  You can't expect him/her to lug the 70lb chunk of steel 1/2 to the rear of the train.  I guess he could drop the knuckle, pull the train up, walk back and put the knuckle on the drawbar, walk back and shove the train back, then walk back repair the knuckle, walk back and back in to the cut , give it a stretch, then walk back to make sure the train is together, then walk back up and depart...but I'm pretty sured he'd be DOL by then (humor).

I've heard some mention "utility men" in vehicles near the mainline oepration.  OK, how about Feather River Canyon?  Mississippi River bridge, etc?  How many utility men would it take to accomplish this??  Maybe a lesser amount than conductors...but what is the cost of DOL's and DH's??? 

I'd have to say that although technology is great, let's get to 2015 and PTC being proven successful, before we even try to approach the next step of one man crews.  It simply doesn't make sense at this point.

59 Replies

  • Your right, at present, it would be a tough egg to sell. But I'm in the process of changing that with this little contraption I've been playing with where it adds capacity and do ability to the one man scenario, with all the safety and concern still in place.

    Until my patent license is in my grubby little hands, I can't describe in detail exactly what it does,but it does address the one man cab issue whether its' in the yard or out on main line. And, I as You, don't hate the union but I could takem or leavem.

  • Frankly, I do not think that robots belong in railroading. Corporate greed is driving the move to get rid of  train crews without giving any thought to public safety or the threat thereto that these robotrains would present. As for remote control switching, I am not overly impressed with the safety record of remote controlled switch engines. If the railroads MUST use remote controlled equipped switchers, then the provisions for reverting to manual operation must be retained so that the locomotive can be operated in the conventional manner as needed by a licensed engineer who should be the principal operator of these switchers. The thing that is wrong with today's railroading is that too many Wall Street types are running the show and they do not know a damn thing about the nature of the railroading beast. A railroad can best be run by a man or woman who has worked his or her up the ranks in several different departments along the way. That, in my book is the best way to LEARN THE BUSINESS. Railroading is not something one can learn in an ivory tower or in that cesspool known as Wall Street, or any business school. It is best learned by working your way from the lowest available job to the top  via the ranks. In this era of terror threats, you need as many pairs of eyes as possible to watch the store, NOT fewer as this remote controled switching means. In other words, LEAVE THE RAILROADIN TO THE RAILROADERS!

  • In reply to James Mancuso:

    James Mancuso

    Frankly, I do not think that robots belong in railroading. Corporate greed is driving the move to get rid of  train crews without giving any thought to public safety or the threat thereto that these robotrains would present. As for remote control switching, I am not overly impressed with the safety record of remote controlled switch engines. If the railroads MUST use remote controlled equipped switchers, then the provisions for reverting to manual operation must be retained so that the locomotive can be operated in the conventional manner as needed by a licensed engineer who should be the principal operator of these switchers. The thing that is wrong with today's railroading is that too many Wall Street types are running the show and they do not know a damn thing about the nature of the railroading beast. A railroad can best be run by a man or woman who has worked his or her up the ranks in several different departments along the way. That, in my book is the best way to LEARN THE BUSINESS. Railroading is not something one can learn in an ivory tower or in that cesspool known as Wall Street, or any business school. It is best learned by working your way from the lowest available job to the top  via the ranks. In this era of terror threats, you need as many pairs of eyes as possible to watch the store, NOT fewer as this remote controled switching means. In other words, LEAVE THE RAILROADIN TO THE RAILROADERS!

    Mr. Mancuso

    Yes, it is true that what you state is reasonable, but as a railroader, I believe that unless we as rails begin to embrace the technologies available we are demonstrating that we are in fear of those technologies. It is up to us to also excersice our right to contribute our input that just might express our utilization ( by the way which I am in the process of doing both figuratively, as well as literally)and professionalization of our industry. How do we do that? examine these new technologies, place them into practice and demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that it's not right, allowing the working craft to work it's magic or destroy it's magic. Eliminate the fear and you eliminate the robotrain, it'll be on our heads that way. But to stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away is'nt the answer either.

    The writing on the wall is a repeat of the stance that the BLET has been professing since the inception of RCO., that is "if we don't let the engineer off the seat they (the carrier) will not dare to remove us". But yet it went to another TEY (thankfully) the conductors'. Otherwise by now it would have been allocated to some other unprofessional division, ( if not taken up by the Conductors' union). If anything reiterate publicly that we are the pros that'll take up the prototyping and the beta-testing in the lab and in the field, instead of some elctronic whizz bang that the FRA or Carrier wants to shove down our throat.

    And then as far as non railroad types (those lacking any railroad experience) you're right again, but because we the railroad unions want it to stay the way it is without any change, just won't happen. The RAILROAD of any class, shortline,industry,whatever, can't and won't sit still, we must embrace the fact that they need to make money so to be able to pay you and me a respectable wage, it's also called progress. In all the years and existance of the railroad unions why hasn't the unions stepped up and started a railroad training facility, where we can train and bring new hires into the railroad culture, instead of letting the Carriers dictate time in the training program, training for most railroad positions are dictated by federal mandate, the unions could very well have converted funds for this such a worthwhile endeavor. And yes, I agree promotion should be from within the ranks, but if the only way we demonstate professionalism is by making unreasonable demands, threatening boycott and strikes, denying advancement with modern technologies, then how can you have your cake and eat it too.

    And please continue with your thoughts they are very much welcomed here!

  • In Europe all the road trains are one-man crews.  Granted, the trains are shorter generally, and there is a greater installation of PTC-like systems, but perhaps that is what's needed for one-man operation.  It clearly can be done under certain conditions.

  • In reply to James Mancuso:

    I agree with James.

    In my years with the r.r., I have run across only a handful of the scheduled employees that either 1) have a true interest in management of what the company does without any prejudice, and 2) have the open-mindedness to be a manager.

    I've seen more that have absolutely nothing good to say about who they work for.  If I hated my job that much I'd leave...oh but wait, where else in this country can you get paid six figures on a HS diploma?  The Longshoreman and professional athletes are the only two that come to mind.

    There simply aren't enough that are qualified or even want to be managers from the rank and file, so how do you fill the gap?  Hire outside your industry, hire college grads, military vets, etc.

    I've also worked in locations where manager's from the ranks are lazy and worthless, aren't willing to hold their fromer colleagues accountable for things, and are conspicuously absent when it's time to step up to the plate and do the job.  This was in a location that didn't exactly have a great population to draw employees from.  I also worked with some former rank and file folks there and one is a best friend to this day.  But again, he met the criteria of 1) and 2) above.

     

  • In reply to James Swidergal:

    One or Zero man crews may seem enticing to the techically visioned planners, but nothing like the human mind/body to react and adapt to unforseen challenges.  Akin to recent repairs to Hubble telescope; not robots but humans.  break off the stubborn bolts.    -- Railway; who to keep the tracks clear and free of hazards and people who trespass?  Robots? Honda has trouble getting Azimo to wlak up/down steps.   what is step is blocked or unstable?    Humans are still best resource we have to manage our technology!      MF&KBY   :)

  • In reply to CDbear336:

    This stream of input is amazing, and thanks for your continued input. Perhaps it should be noted here that technological improvements don't necessarily equate into loss of the human element, in my perfect railroad world new tech, would be an asset, it wouldn't replace the human element it would provide more of a truer picture into what I am doing out there,especially out on main line, where more of the hiccups are occurring, and new tech stuff doesn't hamstring the operator or the conductor, it expands a whole new host of possibilities.

    And with that said it can when applied correctly (hence the need for professional conductors,and engineers, both with licenses) improve the capacity dillemna, and using shorter trains at higher frequency amounts to more professional TEY employees as opposed to less. The day of totally elimination of the human element is still a pipe dream in the minds of those who envision a world where no one has a labor related job, and we're all a bunch of lard butts esping each other. Sure the military has shown where it excels with it's RC aircraft, and the operator is thousands of miles away playing with a joystick.( That's fine and that's also war and if the drone crashes and kills a mess of civilians it's written off as colateral damage,and they can get away with it). But in the good ol' USA our society will not condone any such conduct, and that's why perhaps we as a society still send our youth into battle and maintain fighter pilots and tank commanders and all the rest because it would'nt be the same with out real people dying and bleeding, and all the rest. But we've also created a more refined warrior due to new tech stuff.

    So, dismiss the thought off job elimination, and accept and embrace the new tech stuff, and those who are experienced professionals will do just that, and that will shake out those who are on the job (deadwood) that just want a paycheck for no other reason than they can't accept change.

  • In reply to James Swidergal:

    James states

    And with that said it can when applied correctly (hence the need for professional conductors,and engineers, both with licenses) improve the capacity dillemna, and using shorter trains at higher frequency amounts to more professional TEY employees as opposed to less.

    When BNSF's Transcon was fully loaded, they ran longer, not shorter trains, because there simply weren't enough slots for many short trains.  Single-person crews and shorter trains do not necessarily improve capacity.

  • In reply to Jack Fuller:

    Jack,

    You've misinterpreted what I said, never implied that you would have shorter trains because of smaller crews. What it amounts to is that shorter trains because they can run closer (tighter) proximities of each other, and because there are actually more places to stack them up as opposed to the availability of where to park a long train in delay.

    The other reason for one man crews, only if either position is substituted by an electronic device incorporating Flir,Thi,Ptc,GPS,GIS, within a cpu based communication system, (like the one I am in design with)(awaiting some legal protections before going public with a full description)Etc.

  • In reply to James Swidergal:

    My apologies!

    However, one of the supposed benefits of smaller crews is shorter, more frequent trains.  Yes, they can run more closely, but the signal systems have spacing to accommodate the stopping distance of the longest, heaviest trains on the line.  And so it would seem that the benefits of shorter trains wouldn't improve capcity unless ALL the trains were shorter and lighter. 

    And would there be more ppaces to stack shorter trains?  If they stack up on the main, then capacity is again reduced.  And many yards have few, long tracks, rather than many short tracks. 

    Shorter trains would require some significant investment, in both terminals and for additional main tracks.

  • In reply to Jack Fuller:

    With all the open top traffic moving in long trains, I would argue for  an Engineer

    and two especially where passenger trains are operating on adjacent tracks.

    Having experienced shifted vans/loads  that would have caused a serious accident

    in road trains were they not stopped by crew members watching their train.

    Operating a radio controlled engine in a yard by an industry is certainly more

     

    efficient and safe than in a yard where two, three or more engines are working...Most

    roads dont enjoy having a highway running alonside their right of way like the FEC....

    to even contemplate protecting a train from the highway....

     

    Respectfully, Lew Catone

  • In reply to Lewcatone:

    Engineer Only sounds nice on the surface, however most of these people work 12 hours most days of the week.  To expect somebody to be by themselves that amount of time is barbaric.  Then you have the fatique issue which continues to be insufficeintly delt with.  Unless you bring the Railroad to a hault with regular shiftwork, not exceeding 5 eight hour days, fatigue will always be a factor.  Having a second fatigued pair of eyes continues to prevent unknown numbers of incidents.

  • In reply to Kolodniakie:

    A good point.

    But truckers run "Engineer-only" for 10 hours between rest ... certainly not a totally valid comparison, but something to consider.  And generally they run as far and as fast as they can in that time, with minimal breaks, as they are paid by the mile ... "You ain't earin' if the wheels ain't turnin' "

     

  • In reply to Jack Fuller:

    What happened in Washington,DC with the two Rapid Transit trains is proof that automation is not to be entirely trusted, but have a manual backup in which the operator of the train can take over full control of it in the event of a computer failure. Just because Vancouver, BC's Skytrain is driverless does not necessarily mean that such a system is to be trusted. I believe it is a matter of time before Vancouver has a similar accident between a pair of their Skytrains and there is no driver aboard to do anything about it. Another flaw in Vancouver BC's Skytrain is THERE IS NO PROVISION FOR A HUMAN DRIVER TO TAKE OVER IN EVENT SOMETHING GOES SO TERRIBLY WRONG. Any push for unmanned freight trains on the mainline in this country would really be asking for trouble of a catastrphic nature. While technology is good up to a point, there is a line that must not be crossed if  our transportation network, particularly the railroads, is to remain reasonably safe. A robotrain run wild could kill a lot of people, maybe even wipe out an entire city given the right set of circumstances. All the more reason to keep human crews aboard the trains.

  • In reply to James Mancuso:

    Today (Wednesday) the investigators are saying that the Metro operator did try to override the automated system.  Face it, machines fail and humans make mistakes.  The NTSB will do its usual methodical job of investigating what happened and why.  It undoubtedly will determine that no single thing went wrong in DC, but that a series of events occurred and in a very precise sequence.  That's the way transportation disasters occur.  The system is designed so that one incident doesn't cause a disaster, but man isn't capable, I don't think, of anticipating all the things that can go wrong and their sequencing, so he doesn't design for that.

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