Trains,,,not discussed here : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

At the 2000 and You forum in the Electric Utuilies and Y2k threads are two very good discussions on trains and deliveries. If I knew how to get them here I would but since I don't, you all will have to visit there. One post is especially interesting by a Steve Watson who is working on Fortune 500 projects. He says the government is lying about how far along the utilites have come. Forgive me for not giving links, I do well to type in a post..>>>Concerning D. Squires post about the National Guard web site. Read the topic of Realism at this site. There are places where the truth is spoken.

-- Linda A. (, January 13, 1999


Linda: Steve Watsons comments are on the thread at

Trains operating/delievering coal @ Y2K

Suzanne, To get more specific about YOUR question. It is ovious to me (a Y2k Project Manager and Sr. Analyst with 4 Fortune 100 projects under my belt) that the government is lying. I will not cover that with safe, pretty or misleading language. They are L Y I N G. One day they say the utilities are fine the next they are "very concerned" about the railroads. You cannot talk about one without talking about the other. Approximatly 45% of the utility companies are coal or fuel oil burning. Railroads are how the utility companies get the coal and fuel oil to burn. Even if the utility companies are 100% compliant, "nothing to burn = no electricity generated". Burlington Northern carries 80% of all coal transported in this country. Their Y2k effort has to be far behind because they did not begin until mid 1997, (I know because I was almost assigned to that project). 100% of all railroad switches in this country are automatically controlled (READ: Embedded Systems). Their is not a single manual controlled switch left anywhere in the country. Without being able to track the cars (mainframe computers) and without knowing in what position the switches are set (Embedded Systems), no engineer will take his train down the track and chance a collision with an oncoming train. Their are other problems also to numerous to go into here, just what I have mentioned should be enough to show even if the trains to not cease entirely, they will be slowed to the point of not being able to make adequate deliveries (some of the major utility companies require 3 train loads of coal per DAY!) So how can the govt. say utilites are "fine" but railroads are "very concerning" and balance the two? I am ashamed to say it but the answer is "Tell what they want to hear, do'nt worry about the truth" Good eye Linda. Steve's comments deserve our attention.

-- a (a@a.a), January 13, 1999.

Thanks for the information. I'm still trying to wear down a few people's resistance to seeing the potential of this mess. Hopefully this will help. My question is, if the government is lying about compliance (which I assume that they are), what is there current situation likely to be? Does anyone have any idea?

-- d (, January 13, 1999.

Thanks "a" for the link. I thought he made some very good points.

-- Linda A. (, January 13, 1999.

"what is there current situation likely to be?"

how about "unraveling?"

-- a (a@a.a), January 13, 1999.

The railroads have some serious computer systems facing Y2K issues in front of them. Communications, signals and switching, fuel and supplies, crew management and dispatch, locomotive servicing and dispatch, cargo tracking are some that come to mind right away. And I'm certain I missed more than a few.

But statements like "there isn't a single manual-controlled switch anywhere in the country" are absolute hogwash and add nothing to a serious dicussion. The majority of any freight railroad's switches are manually operated. Automated switches are used primarily in the largest classification yards, at major junctions and at passing sidings. Very few customer locations get the amount of traffic that warrants a remote controlled switch. Power-operated, remote contol switches do include a manual operation function. But it is a time consuming process to use that manual feature.

Every train crew has a key used to open the switch machine where there is crank handle, that when inserted into the mechanism, can be used to turn the switch motor and throw the switch. It slows down the process for each train to stop and check the switches and it's even slower if they have to throw them. But there ARE manual capabilities built into the system.

Every railroad has a section in its operating handbook for how to run the trains when there are communications and signalling failures. And every crewman has a copy of the handbook. If there are long-term signalling and communications outages then the trains can be run using the old "timetable" methods. Maybe even using handwritten orders, but the procedures are still there.

Not as efficient as computerized dispatching, but if the only trains running during a crisis period are loads of fuel and grain or trains of empties going back for more fuel and grain, then there will be a lot less rail traffic anyway and the timetable method will be workable.

The railroads will not freeze-up solid because of Y2K problems. They won't run like clockwork either. But as long as there is fuel available for the locomotives then some shipments will get through. And as long as they can meet the "it takes power to make power" requirements then there is a starting point to get the rest of the power system back up and running.


-- Wildweasel (, January 14, 1999.

Wildweasel's posting is substantially correct, but there are a few points that need to be clarified. The timetable method of routing trains was used for regularly scheduled trains, like passenger and mail trains. The train order system was based on the train dispatcher giving an order to a telegrapher/operator who then repeated the order back to the dispatcher. If there was no errors in the receipt of the order, the dispatcher would then give the superintendents initials as an approval and validate them. (I kept my last train order as a memento). Orders were basically of two types: standing (which were mostly speed restrictions because of track problems) and running orders (which assign a train its destination routing and train priority). The operator would then bundle up all the applicable orders for a given train and ask for clearance from the dispatcher. An exception was made for "timetable" trains which operated on a published schedule which could be issued by the operator without dispatcher's approval. A train crew would receive its orders at its starting point, however, they could be issued further train orders at any time during their trip. This method was eliminated when the railroads adopted the Direct Train Control (or DTC) system. Orders are issued directly to a train crew via radio, and not through any intermediary employees (the old operator position, which was abolished). When a train encounters signal failures, or misaligned switches, they must come to a complete stop (which can take several miles to do!), inspect the problem and then "PROCEED AT RESTRICTED SPEED TO THE NEXT SIGNAL" but not to exceed 10 mph. You can imagine how slow a process this could be, if a train had to stop for every signal and switch along its route. I would like to stress that my experience comes from before the present digital era, so represents only what used to done and not is current practice. The key to understanding whether or not the rails can function post y2k is on the signals, yards, and interlocking plants that have been converted from "manual" to digital type controls. I suspect that the vast majority of switches are still manual or dual manual/power because of the cost required to upgrade them. I think the concept of "chokepoints" is applicable to this analysis.

-- Sure M. Worried (, January 14, 1999.

If things get bad, what better way for terrorists to attack the infrastructure and rebuilding of power efforts than sabotaging tracks in the boonies. Easy-peezy. VERY effective.

-- Andy (, January 15, 1999.

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