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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

 


101 Trains
03 June 2005

 

As I write this, the museum has already operated 101 trains so far this year and the season is just beginning. We are operating seven days a week and will be running trains daily through September. And the trains operate anytime from 6:30 a.m. through to 9:30 p.m.

So why the big emphasis on our train operations? Because so far this year we have had a half dozen close calls with 4-wheelers and dirt bikes that are riding down the railroad right-of-way. The railroad right-of-way is 110-feet wide through Ely. This means the railroad property is fifty-five feet wide on both sides of the track and is private property.

Recently, we had to do some track repairs in Ely. During the process, we had a couple of dirt bikers come by and ask what we were doing to their trail. The short version is that it is not their trail but railroad property.

Why the emphasis on defining railroad property? It is the close calls we have already had. The short version is that our trains weigh in at over a half-million pounds. That's right—over five-hundred thousand pounds. Even just the locomotive weighs almost two-hundred thousand pounds. That is a lot of weight and it is a lot of weight to stop! The trains or locomotives cannot stop on a dime. They need hundreds of feet to come to a complete stop. And with railroading, just slowing down to one or two miles an hour isn't good enough. If the train hits a 4-wheeler at two miles an hour, it will still be like hitting a brick wall.

So how close have we come? Close enough to get the heart rate up of the engineer, such as the time steam locomotive 93 was coming around a blind curve and found a pickup truck on the tracks. The driver's mother had called the railroad to warn the train crew but unfortunately, the locomotive was in a radio blind spot. So without warning, the locomotive rounds the curve and finds a pickup in the middle of the tracks. The driver is standing behind the pickup waving frantically to the locomotive. The driver has two-hundred thousand pounds of locomotive bearing down on him and he is standing behind a pickup that at the very most weighs five-thousand pounds. Guess who is going to win—the locomotive or the pickup?

In addition to outweighing everything out there, the locomotive engineer faces another challenge—visibility. In the case of both the steam locomotive and the diesel locomotive, the long hood of the locomotive limits the engineer's visibility. In this incident, because the locomotive was going around a curve, the engineer could not see the pickup. It was the head brakeman that actually saw the pickup and warned the engineer who started braking. The locomotive was able to stop short without hitting the pickup.

The favorite shortcuts of 4-wheelers and dirt bikers are the high fills that the track is on. This is also the place with no room for maneuvering. There is not enough clearance for a 4-wheeler and the train on the fill. The operator of the 4-wheeler only has very poor options. One is to bail off the fill; with the steep side slopes of the fill; this is not a very attractive option. A tight turn on a steep hill with a train bearing down on you will result in the 4-wheeler tumbling down the hill. Another option is to try to turn the 4-wheeler around and race the train to where there is more clearance. The problem with this option is that there is not enough room to turn around. With the excitement of the train whistling at the rider, there is a good chance of the rider getting his 4-wheeler with one or both wheels over a rail and not being able to get the wheels out before the train comes. If this happens, hopefully, the train can stop in time.

The worst visibility on the railroad is through the tunnels. The original tunnel is a curved tunnel with minimal clearance. The curve limits visibility and the other major problem is that the engineer is blind for about three seconds upon entering the tunnel because he went from bright sunlight into gloom. We have permanent speed restriction of eight miles an hour for all trains going through the tunnel because of poor visibility. If you take the eight miles an hour and the three seconds from the time an engineer enters the tunnel, the train travels almost thirty-six feet blind. If there is a 4-wheeler in the way, the engineer will never see it and there is no room from the 4-wheeler to get out of the way. Result—a smashed 4-wheeler and if we're lucky a very shaken rider. If we're not lucky, we'll have a rider who is either seriously injured or killed.

The railroad is putting up "No Trespassing" signage at the worst places along our route. We ask that you respect these signs for your own safety. You should not walk along the track or ride your bicycle, motorbike, or 4-wheeler along the track. It is very dangerous. If you should find yourself in a situation where you are facing the train, get out of the way. Leave the 4-wheeler or dirt bike behind. Climb out of the way, and save yourself. Don't take a chance— you won't win when you're facing 500,000 pounds of railroad train coming down the track.

There is a saying that we teach all employees on the railroad: you should expect a train on any track, at any time, and in either direction.

 

 

 

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