• Remote Control Locomotive

  • Discussion of present-day CM&Q operations, as well as discussion of predecessors Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR).
Discussion of present-day CM&Q operations, as well as discussion of predecessors Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR).

Moderator: MEC407

  by robc
Hello everyone:

The first of 4 remote control locomotive is soon to roll out from Derby shops. It has all the high tech features other model RCL dream of. We use a system that derives timing from the onboard GPS satellite system which allows us to run multiple RCL operations on a single radio channel. The system has been installed in a totally refurished caboose complete with onboard AC power, lights, air dryer, remote activated twin strobe lights, headlights, man down radio system with auto broadcast and horn and bell. This caboose literaly hooks up any locomotive, plug in the MU's and airlines, and switch over to remote in 5 minutes. The system also will not go remote until GSP syncs with onboard processors. This guarentees the beltpack will not control unless the timing from GPS is locked. It's a one of a kind even the Class 1's will try to match. 1st rollout in NMJ. Here's steppin out of the box! We are rolling out a total of 4 systems. Number 2 slated for midsummer if not sooner. This is self sustained unit that also an external power hock which we can roll into any shop and hook into commerical power and do all in house testing and repairs without a locomotive. Any comments??
  by robc
Next up to bat, Locomotive tracking via GPS and Internet location mapping with real time alarm notifications.

  by MEC407
I hope this works out well for everybody involved.

  by mikeconfalone
What's it all mean?..elimination of how many employees? Sure the technology sounds cool and all...but what's the effect on the PEOPLE??..the guys running the railroad? That's what really matters.

More importantly, what's the status of the possibility of one-man crews on road trains? Rumors have circulated, and a few trains have actually run with one man in extenuating circumstances. It's one thing to utilize remote in the yards..it's quite another to send a guy alone hundreds of miles through the woods in the middle of nowhere. That would be a real joke..and bad business in my opinion...not to mention a real shitty deal for the guy who gets the call. Hopefully it doesn't come to that.

  by sandpvrr
Hello All,
This is a raging debate amongst the railroaders - will the cabooses solve anything. The general belief is that we will wait and see.
For instance - the yard at NMJ is a triangular affair - it joins both the North South main of the Searsport branch / Millinocket Sub, and the numerous Guilford interchange tracks.
Assuming a two man crew, they would have to bring two more men on, because the run to Searsport and back (58 miles round trip) can't be done with a RCL - it would simply take too long.
In this case, two additional men would be hired, to either make the run to Searsport, or the present crew would run to Searsport and a new crew hired for the switcher.
We shall see when the caboose arrives at NMJ.
cya, Joey
  by soolinexec
Well now, MM&A are getting in the high tech age! Congradulations!! I see the comments you're getting are from those with a bit of a narrow perspective. You should look at the other side of the coin, safety. If you ask how many accidents are from miscommunications between the engineer and the conductor, you will find a staggering number. Sometimes this is a subject nobody wants to hear. They always go to the job loss, slow production etc. If you look up the site: www.aar.org you will find alot of your myths disolved and some of the answers to your questions or the onesyou want to ask. You will besuprised to know the BLE is putting up a big fight to those carriers that are using UTU folks for operating the system. Why? because they have very little foresight and try to stop any technology that adds change their world. Maybe it's time to embrace new ways and make it work for you instead of wanting to go back to the old way of doing things. If you research the accident rate of past switching operations, you will find alot of mishaps, accidents, and improper train handling due to human error, not technology. Have fun!!
  by sandpvrr
soolineexec and all,
You bring up a good point soolineexec - the question of safety has been one at the forefront of RCL (remote control locomotive) operations. Recently, UP derailed a train into the path of another train, while it was under remote control in a yard. The RCL system got the blame - in reality, and this is I would like to point out nothing more than a railfans interpretation, that the person running the RCL was at fault. This link is from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers' website (www.ble.org) and appeared just after the accident in question

Although the point made about an engineer probably not repeatedly slamming into a consist is very valid, the remote control system is not to blame for this incident, especially when witnesses stated that the operator couldn't see the end of the consist he was controlling. That to me is operator error, and can't be blamed on the RCL system.
On the idea of miscommunications between the ground crew and the locomotive crew, I myself have commited such a mistake. Nothing dramatic happened, I simply made a bad call on the distance to a hitch, and we hit the car a little hard. No harm, no foul, but the pin failed to drop, so the car rolled about 10 feet. My fault, I misjudged. Granted, I'm a volunteer on a small museum railroad, but these things do happen.
The way I view the safety aspects of an RCL (and correct me if I'm wrong here, professional railroaders) is that a gain in safety is made when considering the fact that no miscommunication can be made, since the person on the ground can see exactly what is supposed to happen. The loss is that the locomotive is unmanned, and if someone or something were to get in the way of it, it wouldn't necessarily be seen. Frankly though, on that last point, I don't see how that really affects the stopping of a train. If I had a cut of 20 cars moving at five miles an hour, and I was looking backwards towards my conductor for a signal, or just to watch the train moving, and all of a sudden someone jumps out in front of me as we are creeping forward to clear a switch, even if I peg the brakes into emergency, its going to take several feet to stop the train, and if someone is that close, there really isn't much I can do to avoid hitting them. In the same scenario, if I'm on the locomotive, or on the ground near it, switching with a beltpack, I don't see how the braking situation would be changed. One thing that could actually positively effect the situation, with a beltpack, I could be on the front of the locomotive, and be able to see both sides of a grade crossing, or both sides of a curve, and still be in control of a locomotive. An engineer, sitting in his seat, can see one side of a curve or crossing, and yes the conductor or fireman could see the other, but if the second person is on the ground, and the engineer is working the controls, performing a switching move, he can't get up and look out the other side of the cab. In this case, beltpack wins.
Please don't take this as an anti-engineer, anti-crew post. The crews are what make railfanning special around my area, and if one of them were to be sent home by this RCL caboose, I wouldn't be happy about it. However, as a computer technician and network administrator, I understand that change is inevitable, and that technology will progress despite individuals or groups fighting it.
My opinion, and it is just that - nothing more, is that RCL makes sense in certain locations, under certain circumstances. Case in point, a local mill (say a papermill for a Maine context) requires 24 hour a day switching. The mill is at the end of a branch. There are no public grade crossings within its limits, and any personal or private crossings are protected with lights and gates. In that situation, a one man crew, or two on the ground, makes sense, because the switching will go faster, simply because you can't go any faster within the mill, and two people getting switches is better than one. Some BAR switcher and even one MM&A switcher crew (that I'm aware of, there may be more) operate with three people, due to the frequent changing of direction and switching within papermills. If RCL was implemented here, beltpack equipped crew members could run the show on the ground, eliminating the engineer in the cab, effectively giving a 33% decrease in railroad cost, and allowing the railroad to offer the same service at a lower rate, and maintain the same profit margin. This might keep traffic on the rails that could go to truck, which might boost traffic levels on that railroad, which could keep the railroad profitable, and perhaps they would have to hire additional road crews to keep the tonnage moving.
Just my opinion!
cya, Joey
  by Realityrail
Man, you railfans know it all, and the professionals don't. RC opens up the opportunity to make the operation safer. It also allows the railraod to increase income.

Lay offs? Let's wait and see what happens. With the shallow extra board, I doubt we will see any fall out over this.

Remember, a few dozen people invested millions of their own money into the MM&A-so what ever they can do to make money, keep a safe operation, and serve the customers is their right.
  by soolinexec
Good afternoon:

I've noticed in your replies that the sense of safety is not quite understood in this subject of RCL. Let me add some input for some of you fans that may have some technical savy. I've also noticed from the description of the author of this subject he or she mentioned GPS. I know of only 1 system that harness this technology for beltpack operation, Cattron Theimeg. I might also add that this is probably the best system going as well as becoming the Defacto standard in the industry. Top shelf choice here guys. Someone sure knew what they were doing and did their homework to pick this outfit out of the vendor crowd. Hell, I know some well known railroads wished they went this route. The Caboose, classic. As far as some safety features, check these out:

1. A man falls down, the beltpack or beltpacks will initiate an Emergency stop, halt the train, and broadcasts an Alert over the radio if you bought the feature. Try that over a radio when you incapacitated.

2. If a battery goes weak, dead, beltpack goes out of radio range, or shut it off, the remote unit goes to a full stop condition. Plenty of indicators on the beltapck to warn you of that.

3. If the beltpack has a selection made, an alarm notification goes off in time intervals to make sure he is still there, like a dead mans button.

4. You have Emergency Stop buttons on the sideboards to punch which will send it into emergency stop.

5. You have a red Emergency button on the beltpack itsself to fire off an Emergency stop.

6. Not enough air in the reservoirs, the system will let you know and will go to full stop untile it replenishes.

7. Try to Hotdog and swith directions without stopping, illegal move and it won't let you do it. Even try to throttle from an idle without the acknowledge switch first, won't move.

I do like the strobe light feature, slick. These do not fire off until the beltpack is ready takes control. You will get a double beep on the beltpack when its ready. Some RCL designs turn on when you flip the switch, even if the beltpacks aren't ready or the system isn't up yet. The rolling display on the beltpack has of kinds of messages to let you know whats going on, speed, type of alarms, all your air pressures and any mistakes your making. Good stuff.

Canac has a damn good system too. Brake rack is a bit tricky to build but non the less, an excellent company. GE is primo, and so is their price.

You will find it very nice to operate as soon as you get the feel of it. Get rid of the negative attitudes and tough guy postering from your trainmen and go with it.

  by sandpvrr
soolineexec, and all,
Thank you for your opinions regarding the Cattron system, and the primer on the safety features.
If my memory serves, I heard both the Cattron and the Canac systems mentioned. I do know that one of the MM&A's hardest working managers spent countless hours reviewing and evaluating the different remote systems, going far beyond the sales pitches, and getting into the gritty technical details.
The system that he ended up picking sounds like the one that you mentioned. The caboose idea I think was a holdover from Management's Wisconsin Central days, but it is a good idea regardless. According to insider accounts, the unit is absolutely beautiful, second too none and I believe the phrase was 'class ones to die for' was mentioned.
Still waiting to see it!
cya, Joey
  by soolinexec

Good to see you have an eyes wide open view of the picture. There will always be an adjustment period to new technology. Always will be. By the description of the devices on board the RCL's, should work out fine. One thing to keep an eye out for, intentional damage & vandalism. As you know, not everyone buys into new ways of doing things and it shows up as damage on beltpacks, busted external devices on the RCL unit, etc. We've seen a few rounds with the Emergency Stop buttons damaged, beltpack antennas twisted that make Balloon clowns scratch their head, batteries that fall out due to the physical damage to the batteries themselves or the mounting slot and buttons on the beltpack take a beating. No need of it. Periodic inspections should pick up of this.

People need to do visual inspections before taking control of the RCL and hold those accountable for intentional damage as it will happens and reported when identified. The EOT's are prime example. When Hot Box Detectors and FRED ( Front Rear End Devices) made their debut, cabooses found their way to the grave yards. EOT's started taking the heat for that. You would be shocked to see the gauntlet those devices are ran threw and how much water has been drained. Shameful. Technology marches on. Nothing to fear but fear inself.

  by Cowford
It is a shame (but not surprising) that many feel that employee job protection is the only acceptable road to prosperity. In reality, it's the opposite. I'd like to know how many RCL detractors use ATMs (oops, you just put a teller out on the street), pump their own gas (not only did you put an attendant out of work, have you been properly trained in hazardous material transfer operations?), or buy an airline ticket online (you just helped eliminate a travel agent or airline customer service position).

MMA has enough challenges, as it is. Lots of miles, not enough business, and let's be honest, little chance of significant growth. (Before MMA took over, this forum was littered with hyperbole regarding all the new traffic that was going to flood the system. Where is it? MMA could run a 70mph super-railroad south of Fort kent, but that would do little to slow the County's negative population growth.)

Embrace the fact that MMA is doing what is necessary in using available, proven technology to lower costs and improve its viability- nothing more, nothing less. If they can eventually figure out a way to run the railroad with just one guy in NMJct operating a model railroad transformer, more power to 'em.
  by soolinexec
Nice response above. Seems hypocritical in nature to use all the tecnologies he mentioned without a blink of an eye, until it effects you. What's the real fear? Jobs. Would be best to leave the old ways of thinking behind and move on to ways of embracing new technology to refine your ways of doing business. If you don't, someone else will and they will be doing it with "state of the art" equipment at their side. You may find job loss won't be an issue.
MM&A seems to have a very good backbone of people.

You folks in Maine better get with the program and stop snubbing your noses at any advances in technology designed to improve safety and productivity, or not in my back yard mentality. I am sure you've had businesses out there go under from either complacency, lack of vision, or just unwilling to change to your business enviornments. We all have. The midwest has harsher surroundings and we know what it takes. It's those who takes reality checks and adapt that survive.

Anyhow, you will find the RCL's nice to work with.

  by sandpvrr
Cowford Said:
Embrace the fact that MMA is doing what is necessary in using available, proven technology to lower costs and improve its viability- nothing more, nothing less. If they can eventually figure out a way to run the railroad with just one guy in NMJct operating a model railroad transformer, more power to 'em.
I volunteer to be that guy! Just as long as we can interface it with a 3D train sim so I get that 'in the Cab' feel :-)
I agree - technology helps make railroads run cheaper, and safer. Does anyone think we should go back to switching with dim kerosene lanterns as opposed to radios and battery powered lights? Maybe we should go back to hand fired steam locomotives while we're at it.
Technology marches on - those that don't march with it - get run over.
Still waiting to see that caboose! Next week hopefully.
cya, Joey
  by robc
Pretty close to put the first one into operation: A change in the firmware EPROM, gauges to install, the Decals and paint schemes to finish. Won't be long.
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