TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train

Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train
19 May 2007 18:43:46 -0700

T wrote:

> In places spread far, I can understand that. Here in RI the Transit 2020
> report says we MUST use light rail between the cities since the highways
> can no longer support the volume of traffic that would be necessary.

Land is finite. In developed regions (suburbs, too) we're out of
land. Highways use up an enormous amount of land.

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Here is a trick question for you ...
> CTA at one point hauled freight as well as passengers; true or false?

> TRUE ... it happened like this: When North Shore Railroad was operating
> toward the end of its life, the railroad had ONE freight customer,
> whose name was 'The Lill Coal Company'. Lill's office was on Broadway,
> about a block north of Montrose Avenue. (For you young'uns, people used
> to heat their houses with coal in coal burners. Gradually, we dropped
> coal and went (first) to oil (then later) to gas. And just as
> gradually, businesses like Lill, which supplied coal to individuals,
> schools, companies, whoever had to go out of business. But for the two
> year interim between North Shore RR going out business followed by
> Lill Coal Company going out of business, Lill was quite frantic. *How*
> would their coal supply be delivered to them for their customers?

It is common to find abandoned coal trestle railroad sidings. The
train would park over concrete bins and pour the coal out from
trapdoors in the car's bottom. A local distributor would then deliver
it to customers. Many of those dealers switched to oil and are still
in business.

The Philadelphia School District, allegedly under political pressure
from PA coal towns, built new schools using coal for heat into the
1950s. I think coal is cheaper per BTU than oil, that is, you can
save money heating with coal. But coal is dirty and hard to work
with, that's why oil took over.

> Did CTA ever operate chartered 'funeral cars'? Again, true.

Many interurban lines handled local freight cars.

In the early years, many streetcar lines handled freight in special
"box motors" which were trolley cars only without seats or windows.
Carrying milk from the country into the city and US Mail were common
uses in the early 1900s. When the motor truck was perfected in the
1920s this business was lost.

I understand the New York City MTA still carries freight. There's a
tiny little freight line in Brooklyn the MTA owns that is a common
carrier. Most of its work is hauling deliveries to the MTA itself
(e.g new subway cars, rail, etc.) But if there are any industries
left along its tracks, it will deliver freight to them.

Philadelphia used to have a funeral streetcar available for charter
back in the days when trolley tracks covered the entire city and
nearby suburbs. The trolley would pick up mourners at the church and
take them to the cemetary. It had a special compartment for the

As to light freight service, at one time the mainline railroads
carried lots of single car loads for individual customers. Any
factory of reasonable size had a siding, and there were also public
sidings. Handling these cars meant a local freight had to prod along
and pick up and deliver cars. The cars had to be switched into and
out of through trains going to different places until the car ended up
at its destination. By government regulation, the service was cheap
and mandated, though rather slow. The railroads wanted out of this
business, preferring to concentrate on high volume single customer
shipments, like a trainload of coal for a power plant instead of one
coal car for one customer. (Large institutions, like a college, had a
RR siding for coal deliveries, they'd get a couple of car loads in the
fall for winter heating.) As Pat noted, even if only one customer was
left the RR had to keep the entire line open and working ($$$) to
serve that single customer.

After deregulation of the railroad industry, the big railroads were
relieved of this burden and could charge rates that reflected actual
costs. Little short-line railroads took over in a few places, in
others, tiny side lines were abandoned. It is unfortunate it took so
long for deregulation, this should've happened in the 1950s instead of
1980s. (Yes, there are still industries with limited car deliveries,
but they pay for it now.)

Today, freight engines and crews have modern railroads. I don't know
if locomotives have fax or computer printers to give out dispatchers'
orders or if that is still relayed orally. The locmotives are far
more fuel efficient due to microprocessor controls.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Speaking of freight and coal cars, one
of the most unusual operations I ever saw -- in my childhood at least
-- was the 'Commonwealth Edison Railroad'; engines and coal cars
marked as property of Commonwealth Edison in the Chicago area. On the
far southeast side of Chicago (where it touches Whiting, IN) used to
be a _huge_ electrical generating station operated by Edison. Immediatly
next to it (between it and Lake Michigan, upon which it sat, were a
group of railroad tracks running to/from Chicago and the steel mills
and oil refineries of Northern Indiana.

A highly dangerous place for little boys to hide, or play around,
which of course is what made it so appealing to us. Eight or ten
tracks going through there, with eighty to one hundred car freight
trains all traveling at sixty to seventy miles per hour, zipping
toward Chicago or outbound to somewhere else. What I specifically
recall were the 'Edison trains'; locomotives marked 'Commonwealth
Edison' straining to pull several dozen coal cars loaded to the brim
with coal to be dumped in the coal pit there. The engine would pull
all its cars a bit past that point, then back up on a siding which
sort of went up an incline. These trains came from the coal mines
in West Virginia. As the train at that point slowly pushed a car
up the incline to the top, the back coal car would slip into place
in a device at the top where a man would (using machinery) clamp
the sides of the coal car and the entire thing (including the track
it was sitting on) would be turned upside down, the entire car full
of coal dumped into the pit below it where it landed on a conveyor
belt which kept pushing the coal out of the way. Now, the empty coal
car was uprighted once again, and disconnected from the rest of the
train; then the engine would move slightly, and give that final (and
now empty) car a bump backward, so the car would roll down the incline
and back to level ground, where somehow or another it managed to get
hooked into several more recently empty coal cars.

When this had gone on all day, another engine went to the front of the
cars and was hooked up to the empties, which were then all hauled away
back to West Virginia for more coal. That went on all day and night,
most every day. It seemed to us kids like a bottomless pit where the
coal was dumped; it never reached the top nor anywhere close, but we
saw men working down in the bottom of the pit as well as men working
on the top of the bridge-like structure where coal cars were bumped
into place just prior to being dumped. And all day long, never
ceasing, these plumes of black smoke coming out of the chimney stacks
on top of the gothic cathedral like building attached. The building
was called 'State Line Electric Generating, Inc; a Division of
Commonwealth Edison' and it was a most fascinating place to
visit. There were also three or four very large metal rods stuck in
the ground here and there by the building. I was told these were
'lighting rods' for the times which, when during a bad thunderstorm
lightning would (apparently attracted by the turbines, etc inside)
strike around the building.

Throughout the day at various times other trains would go zooming past
on the other tracks outside. The very extreme corner of northwest
Indiana, at the Illinois/Lake Michigan/Whiting border. PAT]

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