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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Friday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


Trains — A Sudy in Momentum
29 April 2005

by Robby Peartree

 

The weekend of April 16th and 17th was the start of another busy season on the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Over the course of four days, there were four scheduled trains, a charter, and ten locomotive rentals. All of this equated to a lot of activity on the railroad. Moving these trains took every available person to accomplish our activities. While looking down from the cab of 93 on Monday April 18th,, I noticed new all terrain vehicle tracks by our main line. I can honestly tell you that the greatest fear in life for most train crew personnel is that for reasons beyond their control they hit a trespasser.

Trains are a study in momentum. Just consider that steam locomotive 93 weighs about 160 tons. With that much weight, stopping takes some distance to be accomplished. So consider the excitement one day for a volunteer engineer, while traveling though a blind curve (the boiler of the steam locomotive blocks the engineer's view in a left hand curve), when he heard his head brakeman say that there was a vehicle on the track and it's not moving. The engineer immediately began to apply the brakes and try to bring the locomotive to a stop. And after several hundred feet, he did manage to stop short of the truck, which had trespassed onto the tracks. The driver had attempted to cross the tracks where many people do with there all terrain vehicles. Unfortunately, for the driver, the vehicle's frame members and transmission mounts did not clear the rails and he managed to get only further stuck from his frantic efforts to free it. As the locomotive approached, he stood directly behind the vehicle waving his arms.

Now let us consider this. Steam locomotive 93 weighs approximately 160 tons. His pickup truck about 2 tons with him standing directly behind it If the engineer had not stopped 93 he would have possibly pushed that truck onto the driver and there is nothing more the locomotive engineer could have done. The locomotive engineer cannot steer the locomotive around the truck. The locomotive can only go where the tracks take it and in this case, it could have been into the truck and driver.

As an engineer, while doing everything you can to stop the train, your mind is racing through all of the possible scenarios that may be the end result. And you are hoping that you will be able to avoid the collision. Your heart begins beating extremely fast and the adrenalin is flowing at a suddenly fast rate that you actually feel as though time slows down. Even if you are able to stop short of the trespasser, the rate at which your adrenalin increased is such that it takes several minutes for you to begin to calm down. You will remember this event for a long time even as you realize that you were successful at avoiding a collision with a trespasser. And if you killed the trespasser, you will have to deal with those memories for the rest of your life.

Every train we operate at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum we have guests of the community aboard the train. They come here looking for an ability to travel back into time. An incident where someone who chooses to interfere with the safe operation of the railroad by trespassing can create a memorable experience that may leave a negative impression of our community—not to mention making headlines on national news.

So we at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum ask that if you need to cross our tracks that you do so at designated crossings and respect the power of trains and educate other family and friends about the dangers of trespassing onto railroad right of way. We want everyone to have a positive memorable experience when they visit the Ely area and if everyone does their part, the goal can be reached.

 

Just to emphasize Robby's remarks, the routes that the excursion trains take all have blind curves, very narrow clearances, and two tunnels. Last year the museum operated 510 trains. This year we'll be operating somewhere north of 600 trains. Our operations can start as early as 7:00 a.m. and we can run as late as 9:30 p.m.

There is a saying in railroading that we teach our train crewmembers. It is, "Expect a train on any track, in either direction, at any time." As we increase operations this is an important saying for all to know that are near the railroad track.


 

 

 

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