Sketch with Steve: work on the switches in front and on the run

The way a switch faces affects how easy or difficult it is to change that spur. Photo by Steven Otte

A turnout is where one track becomes two. The single track, where the moving point rails let a train choose between routes, is called the turnout point end. The two-way end, where the closure rails intersect at the frog, is the frog end. And what an end is who can make or break the day of a railway worker when he has cars to change at this spur.

If the train approaches the frog end of the switch, if the points point away from it, this is called a vanishing point switch. It is easy to change a vanishing point turnout. First of all, the brakeman cuts the train so that the cars which are to be switched are at the end of the train of cars coupled to the locomotive. The engineer then drives the train past the switch and the brakeman aligns the switch on the siding. The engineer backs the cars back into the spur, the brakeman cuts them, and the engineer walks back onto the main track. Once the brakeman has aligned the switch to the main track and boarded the train, the locomotive engineer turns to the rest of the train and continues on his way. Easy peasy.

But notice the problem in the second part of my sketch. The train approaches the end of the point, making it a face-to-face switch. There is no way for the engine to bypass the car, so it can push the car in front of it into the switch. If the train is there to retrieve the car from the spur, it can do so quite easily, but then it gets stuck with a car in front of the locomotive.

There are several ways to service a face-to-face referral. If the train in question is a “turn” – that is, a local that makes its way from a yard to a turn point, moves the locomotive to the other end of the train, and then comes back – the team can work all the spurs of the vanishing point on the first leg of the trip, then the others on the return trip, when they are late.

Another way is to use a bypass track – a double ended siding, as shown in the third sketch – to drop the car to be changed, run on the other track, enter behind it and push it into the spur. The spur does not have to branch off from the casing, as in my sketch; the bypass could be miles down the road. It may not be ideal to travel long distances pushing a car in front of the locomotive, but it beats some of the alternatives.

In the Steam Age, locomotives often carried chains that could be used to pull wagons on adjacent parallel tracks. To move the cars in the opposite direction, long, thick wooden poles could be inserted into pockets in the corners of the freight cars and the locomotive drivers to push the cars. This practice could be quite dangerous, as a pole could shatter and shatter, becoming a deadly projectile. While it does not appear that the Federal Railroad Administration ever banned this practice, most railroads banned it in the 1960s.

Another dangerous practice is “flying drop” or “Dutch drop”. (I don’t know why it’s called the “Dutch drop”, since Holland is not exactly famous for the history of the railroad. Maybe it has to do with the legend of the “Flying Dutchman?” “Or a railwayman nicknamed” Dutch? “But I digress.) The maneuver is illustrated in the fourth sketch. The locomotive, behind the car to be located, starts a good distance before the switch opposite (much further than I had space to illustrate) and picks up speed. He then backs up the throttle to create a hitch clearance so the car can be uncoupled on the fly. The locomotive accelerates in front of the coasting car and a switch lines the switch for the siding after the engine has passed. The car (hopefully) rolls into the siding, where a brakeman driving the car stops it. The many reasons why this maneuver can go wrong – the switch is aligned too early or too late, the locomotive cannot enter the free space in time, the car does not get far enough into the spur and goes a fault on the main – are the reasons why the railways have strongly discouraged, if not outright banned, this practice.

These are not hazards on a model railroad, so you might be tempted to give it a try. Our models have neither the momentum nor the ability to disconnect on the fly to perform this maneuver like large railroads did. But if the main line has a slope that slopes towards the spur, you may be able to do this if you start with the knuckle hitches in the delayed position. If you do this, you are sure to impress the “old minds” of your operations team.

About Jun Quentin

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