Saturday, May 10, 2008

Welcome To Milepost 154!

Hello, and welcome all to the new Milepost 154 blog, a blog dedicated to modern railroading, its nature, its employees and its fans.

With the introduction of this blog I hope to accomplish a few, perhaps, lofty goals:
  • Allow the general public to realize just how important railroads are to this nation;
  • Allow people to understand the realities of railroading and look "beneath the hood", so to speak;
  • Become a resource for railroaders and railfans alike;
  • Offer the site as a place where railroad employees may feel comfortable and vent when necessary;
  • Be a repository of original and "inside" photographs to the railroading world;
  • Keep current on safety, union and industry news affecting railroaders in the Northern Americas;
  • Allow anyone and everyone to comment with honesty, openness and, due to the nature of some railroad companies, anonymity if desired.
Here is my background:

I got into the hobby of “railfanning” entirely by accident.

To begin, I moved into the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1993, leaving the Sacramento Valley far behind — motivated primarily by a murder next door, helicopters, sirens and cop pursuits at night, barking dogs, gangbangers in my neighborhood park, thump trucks and the press of too many people. I wondered, however, if I’d taken absolute leave of my senses as I now faced a 78 mile commute — one way — each work day. Luckily, a major perquisite at that time was a “take home” car with unlimited gas. I was up at 4:30 AM and home by 8 or 9 PM — pretty much my current schedule. Life then decided to throw a series of curve balls at me, culminating in 1997. I began to re-evaluate some very personal priorities. For literally months, I could not sleep at night. And so: I began to hear what was present all along in the mountains where I lived.

The nearby rails would sing, just to me, in the middle of my summer night, when all the windows were open as I lay awake.

I could hear plaintive horns sounding for rail crossings. On good nights, I heard horns dancing off the rocks and canyon walls: two, three, four, five crossings? I knew the tracks were nearby. Where were these trains going? Where were these crossings? Why did they seem to sound so different at times?

One day I drove by the tracks in Gold Run, not far from my cabin. On the siding sat a nicely painted idling locomotive numbered 772, and a few cars. I had a small camera with me and felt compelled to stop. The locomotive read “ELECTRO MOTIVE” on the side and, in small letters under the cab, “THE NICHOLAS” and then “GP-38-2.”

Despite standing some distance away, the locomotive literally shook my lungs as its engine loped along in idle.

I realized only later: I had been hooked right then and there.

I was in it for the power. Not so much for the train, not so much for the cars. The locomotives.

Since then, my journey led to a re-kindled interest in 35mm and then digital photography. From there, into digital video. And then history — much history.

I am lucky enough to live (at the 4,000 foot elevation) in the midst of history, a few hundred feet from the original lines laid down by the Central Pacific Railroad in the mid-1860’s. I have photographs of my young town surrounded by nude mountains dotted with stumps, due to placer mining and clear-cut logging.

And now, a “mere” 150+ years later, the pines are thriving and thick. Each spring the new tips sprout and green pollen dusts my car, the deck and my house; it seems another place altogether from the old photos I have.

Yes, I am a railfan. And a fan of history, for I am surrounded by the sound of whistles, the chuff of steam, the clatter of Chinese picks and shovels so long ago. I can hear them at night, along with the diesels.

Make no mistake. I do not profess to be an “expert” regarding the rails. I'm just one guy who can appreciate the sound of an EMD set of traction motors howling downhill, or mixed consists of EMD and GE locomotives on the #2 eastbound track notched into Run 8 as engineers pour sand to the rails and hope, with the requisite 2.5% grade, that their 12,000-ton grain trains or pigs or mixed manifest or Z-trains or passenger trains encounter no difficulties in their runs up The Hill.

For that is where I live, and what the bulk of this blog will deal with: Union Pacific's Roseville Subdivision, and the 139 miles between Roseville, California and the next crew-change spot, Sparks, Nevada. And yet, not just this line (the number 1 and number 2 tracks on the Roseville Sub) but others as well.

My admitted soft spots:

1. Locomotives. Nothing like a set of 5 modern diesel-electric locomotives passing by at track speed in Run 8. Nothing.
2. The cab. The interiors of locomotives fascinate me, not only because insight into any loco cab is rare, but because of the crew and employee dynamics that occur there.
3. Employees, working conditions, unions. And the relationships between these areas and our Class I railroads.

If you are an employee and wish to write for the blog in full concert or anonymously, please write me at I would enjoy nothing more than engineers, conductors, MOW workers, dispatchers and others to utilize this blog as a focal point of issues, information and safety alerts.

If you wish to comment (and I heartily encourage any and all comments) then please do so.

I fully recognize the general adverse nature that exists between railroad employees and their employers. You need not post or write your true name(s) and/or locations either in regard to comments or entries.

And finally: please do not label me anti-industry or anti-Class I. I am, however, a realist when it comes to the history of this nation and its railroads and, moreover, railroads' military origins.

One thing I do know:

The Class I railroads -- and railroaders -- are frequently their own worst enemies in terms of self-promulgation and promotion for the future. Sometimes it seems as though railroads refuse to hire those who don't already hate the system.

If Class I railroads (railway companies with a minimum annual operating revenue exceeding $319.3 million) in North America are to continue, this practice has to stop. The Major Players, to include CSX, BNSF, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern need to collectively change their Corporate Cultures.

But -- in the meantime -- let the rails sing with traffic, movement, employment.