Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: metraRI, JamesT4

  by Tadman
What happens when NICTD wheels go from round to pizza-box shape? About 50% of the time I ride Metra (mostly diesel lines) the train rides like a hayride because the wheels are so bad - however, I think there's a wheel true machine at 43rd on RI, and even ME cars are towed dead for this work. Does NICTD ask METX to tow MU's for wheel work? Or does Shops have their own machine?

  by byte
The South Shore has a pretty good shop facility, so more than likely they have wheel-truing capabilities (next time PRRGuy signs on he can probably confirm/deny). Also, NICTD's railcars seem to be pretty reliable and trouble free, so flat spots may not crop up very often. That wheel truing facility over by the RI - if it's what I'm thinking of, it was built almost exclusively for the MED cars because of their odd braking system causing flat spots more than what would be considered normal. If that's the only wheel truing facility Metra owns (which I doubt - there's gotta be one at the Rocket house and/or Zephyr pit), the Highliners are probably the shop queens of the place, and they only fit in the other bilevels when there's no electric cars to work on.

  by JLJ061
They do have a wheel-truing machine in the new shop. I happened to see it when I was given a tour of the Shops back in the early 90's.

The only time I have ever ridden a train with flat-spotted wheels was coming out of South Bend, when the train struck a car at Bendix and Ardmore, and the engineer threw the train into emergency.

  by Tadman
anybody notice the frequency of flat spots I do on diesel trains?

I know this is kind of OT but is related to the thread.

  by JLJ061
Are you referring to CSS trains?

If so it's probably from a story told by a guy who used to work on the CSS freight side, where freight crews would play a game called "Precision Big Hole."

According to this guy the rules were while switching cars the engineer would run the train as hard and fast as he could, then throw the train into emergency to see how close he could stop the train short of the switch without passing it!

Personally I don't know if this game is/was for real, maybe MikeF or PRRGuy can shed some light on this subject. lol

  by MikeF
I've never heard anything about that happening on CSS. If it's true -- what a dumb game to play. Running through switches is generally not something management takes lightly. Even if they didn't run through improperly lined switches, what a waste of time to have to recover the air every time.

I have heard that some commuter engineers (the story I heard was from the Milwaukee Road) would play a similar game when stopping their train at stations -- come in hot, then dump it at just the right time to stop the train precisely at the proper berth. Aside from a few possible flat spots and perhaps some irritated passengers, that was mostly harmless fun.

In either case, I doubt too many crews would try such antics today when all their actions can be downloaded from the event recorder if management desires.

If Tadman was referring to diesel freight trains in general, yes, flat spots are fairly common as a result of several normal operating practices, such as dragging cars with hand brakes applied while switching.

  by Scotty Burkhardt
The RI wheel shop is in the Burr Oak (127th) yard not 47th Street.

  by Tadman
I was speaking of METX diesel trains with flat spots, but I've heard many a story of coming in hot and throwing the air on a CSS coal train, because they were typically the same length with predictable stopping distances. I don't know if they do it now - can the geeps be retrofitted with recorders that can tell the managers that type of data? I would assume just about anything happened at CSS back in the day.

  by byte
Is the story everyone's refencing one of the CSS&SB editions of "Hot Times on the High Iron?" (I know for a fact it was mentioned there) If so, the era when he worked with them kind of explains it - late 80s, right around the Chase, MD Amtrak/Conrail wreck that got the industry to keep better tabs on their employees, but before the actual "tabbing" of the employees began to take place. Also consider that back then, the South Shore was ONE railroad, not NICTD/CSS&SB. So there were probably employees being shuffled around back and forth between the interurban and freight operations, and some of the former passenger guys reassigned to freight might have seen it easier to just throw it into emergency and let that stop it, rather than learn a whole new set of train braking characteristics.

  by MikeF
Tadman wrote:I don't know if they do it now - can the geeps be retrofitted with recorders that can tell the managers that type of data?
As far as I know, the CSS Geeps, like the NICTD MU cars, were fitted with event recorders some years ago. Of course, trainmaster types don't usually look at the black box data unless there's a mishap, but engineers tend to be a little more cautious when they know their actions can be "downloaded" at any time.

  by JLJ061
Here is an excerpt from the brakeman's story I was referring to:
Engineers on the South Shore had a method of stopping coal trains called “precision big hole.” This was a calculated manner of using an emergency application to stop a coal train short of the switches at Bailly or Power. These guys would roll the train along like normal, but when it came time to stop, they would use an emergency application instead of the normal method of service braking to stop their trains at the above named switches. The key was to know exactly where to dump the air so as not to get by the switch. If the train stopped close but didn’t get past the switch, it was considered a good stop. I have worked no place else where the Engineers made such stops and then took pride in such a method of stopping a train.

And if you overshot the switch (which did happen on occasion), once the air was recovered, the train would have to be shoved back far enough to clear the switch so that it could be lined and you would head into the plant.

One Engineer there once told me “An Engineer on the South Shore can work anywhere.” I started laughing and told him that no railroad anywhere would put up with such train handling methods as precision big hole. In fact, this method was not allowed anywhere else and they would likely be fired if they tried it. I also told him I knew of several Conductors and Brakemen who would likely have thrown them out the window if they used this method of stopping with them.

And yes, I did change a couple of knuckles thanks to this bizarre method of train handling.

  by dinwitty
sounds like a good skill test, it makes you know your surroundings, your power, your train.

Not good on flat wheels tho.

I would say once in a while you better do an emergency stop test just to make sure you know your stop distance and to test your equipment.