Train Crew Question, Transition from yesterday to today

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- North America' started by TR-Flyer, Feb 28, 2004.

  1. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Hi all:

    Haven't been to the library on this one yet. Thought i'd start here and see if y'all can give me some direction.

    I understand that prior to doffing the use of cabeese, the conductor was in charge of the train, the engineer ran it Other "trainmen" performed duties as required, fireman, flagman, etc. What ws teh size of a typical crew adn where did they typicall ride?

    When the railroads dropped use of cabeese, how did the roles change? Who is the conductor now? How many folks are typically on a train. How are the safety concerns that flagging operations addressed handled today?

  2. Vic

    Vic Active Member

    Hi, Ted. I would suspect that now varies from railroad to railroad depending on what was negociated in their union contracts.
  3. ceebeenq

    ceebeenq Member

    Ted- I can tell you what it was like in the late 70's early 80's as I was a brakeman on the C&NW at that time.
    Typical over the road freights had the engineer and a brakeman in lead unit. Rarely was there a "fireman", which at that time meant a student engineer, but I did see this a few times. The status of fireman in the diesel age probably varied from railroad to railroad, but as I understand it, they did ride/run as assistants to the engineer.

    The waycar (what the C&NW called the caboose) held the conductor and rear brakeman or flagman.
    so.....Most trains had a total of 4 crew.
    In mid 80's -approximately- ( I was no longer a rail employee after '82) a national agreement allowed the elimination of one brakeman and later the other brakeman.....for a few years, the caboose was kept on with only the conductor. So there were 3 man crews for a while but I can't pinpoint the years. Both brakeman jobs were eliminated for most freight service by about 1990.

    Now almost every over the road freight you see has a conductor and engineer in the lead unit and that's it.
    If there's trouble in the train, the conductor has to find it, repair it. (bad air hose, sticking brake, knuckle!)
    The conductor has to hang on, make the cut, etc if there are cars to set out or pick up.

    Today there still may be 3 or rarely 4 man crews on "local jobs" (sometimes called a way freight) which do a lot of industry switching and really need the extra hand on the ground.

    If it is not obvious, the engine-man has no responsibility for work other than on the engines, or as some of them like to say with pride or disdain "I don't get on the ground" .
    And of course, in the days of steam there really was a fireman, of course, and most train crews were 5 men. :D

    Finally, in my experience, the conductor, back in the caboose, was not always a hands-on manager. If the engineer was experienced and competent he did what was necessary without consulting the conductor.
    And truth be told, a lot of sleeping occurred in the caboose. But that's another story.
    Hope this helps. I don't guarantee this to be 100% applicable to every road, but it should be accurate for most.
    CbnQ :thumb:
  4. ceebeenq

    ceebeenq Member

    More on crews

    I forgot to say what a brakeman did. I can't cover it all, but here's *one* thing a head-end brakeman did in the territory I worked: (We operated in single track "dark" territory. ie, No block signals, CTC, etc) We had train meets dictated by the dispatcher and provided to the crews as train orders hand written on "flimsies" (very light paper). Yes this was 1980 and some railroads still were doing this.
    If we had to meet an opposing train and we arrived first and were to take siding, the head brakeman would drop off the engine after the engineer slowed to about 3-4 mph and RUN to the switch stand, unlock the lock, throw the switch, check the points, and highball the engineer who was still moving at 3 mph or so. (the highball was pretty much a formality with a mile long 7000 ton train. If the switch was bad, you were going on the ground)
    Today the UP (who merged/bought the C&NW) doesn't allow anybody to get off or on moving equipment. Quite a difference from my times only 20 some years ago.
    Essentially in the 4 man crew days, the brakemen did the "dirty work" throwing switches, walking the train, flagging, setting out or picking up cars, etc while the conductor......uhhh....conducted. :D :D :D
    Cheers :thumb:
  5. ceebeenq

    ceebeenq Member


    Ted, yet another response....
    well flagging today is essentially performed by the dispatcher and/ or radio communications between trains. Radio is much better now than 20-25 years ago. If you have a scanner, you'll hear it sooner or later "Dispatcher, 4732 West in emergency at milepost 138.5" or similar words. The dispatcher throws up a red signal behind the train.
    In unsignalled territory the crews have to talk to each other or have the dispatcher relay the info.
    Again there will be variations between roads or depending on the specific operating characteristics.
    I think I got em all.
    :D :thumb: ;)
  6. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    In terms of crew in the cab, at some point in the Thirties when railroads were first starting to use diesels, many railroad companies wanted to eliminate the use of firemen, since diesels didn't need anyone to shovel coal. The trainmen's union, of course, wanted them to keep the fireman as a safety precaution (though whether the "safety" was railroad safety or job safety is another matter.) A compromise was reached--firemen would be required on diesel engines weighing more then 45 tons.

    Shortly afterward, diesel locomotive manufacturers started producing 44-ton diesels...fancy that! There were also 45-tonners, intended for industrial use where union rules didn't apply.

    I have seen way freights operating in town where I live which have two or three crewmen sitting on the outside of the engine, jumping off to throw switches and such as necessary. Less comfortable than a caboose, I imagine, except in good weather...
  7. ceebeenq

    ceebeenq Member

    caboose spotting

    Jetrock- Way freights or locals are one place where, if real lucky, we still might see a caboose today.
    A few railroads still use them for the crew .........although I can't think of a specific one right now. Otherwise the extra trainmen ride in a second unit or that leat cab gets real crowded. :thumb: :D
  8. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Ted,Here is the way it was on the PRR/PC and the C&O/Chessie when I worked on the railroad.
    In the locomotive.
    3.Head Brakeman.He could be riding the lead unit or be riding the last training unit looking back over the train.
    4.ARF.Sometimes you would have a Assistant Road Foreman along so he could get his monthly throttle time in.
    In the cabin car you would find.
    1.Conductor-He is the one in charge.
    2.Rear Brakeman
    3.Swing Brakeman.This was a extra brakeman added to a locals crew if the local exceed 30 cars.
    4.A student brakeman woukld ride the cabin car as well.
    On the C&O/Chessie.
    2.Head Brakeman
    3.ARF same as above.
    In the Caboose
    2.Rear Brakeman
  9. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Hi All:

    Thank you all for the information. I really appreciate it. Helps me fill in the "operations" side of my hobby and understand a little more about my grandfather's job.

    As i understand it, "flagging" is now "radioing". Do the railroads use any "GPS" systems. I know civil engineering has latched onto this technology in a big way.

  10. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Ted,A word about flaging..Flaging is when a conductor or brakeman flags a crossing..That means he will either stop the vehicles or flag(wave) them through the crossing if the train is stopped..Much like a Police Officer would do at a busy intersection to direct traffic..
  11. TR-Flyer

    TR-Flyer Member

    Hi Brakie:

    When a train stops, isn't flagging what a man does when he walks back up/down the line to warn other trains? I thought that's what the different whistle signals were for when they talk about calling a crew back from the north, west, east, etc.

  12. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Yes,In the days of old a flagman then later the rear brakeman would walk back to flag the rear of a stopped train.Now as you said a head brakeman would flag the front of a train if the train was stopped on a single track..This is called flag protection of a stopped train.
    Now flagging a crossing means you are flagging vehicles through a street or road crossing while stop.This is done to keep vehicle traffic from backing up by working flashers with or without gates.Of course when the train is ready to move you would stop the flow of traffic.

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