Sunday, April 29, 2018

Well that's a relief!

During the operating session yesterday, we ran X-1824 which is the MOW ballast train that runs from New Market, VA (east staging) through to Morgantown, WV (west staging). This train has run numerous times in the past, albeit with different power, and we've never had any issues. At least until yesterday.

As the train entered the siding westbound at Summit Springs for a meet with EC-2, the loco stopped on the grade crossing. The crew called the super to inform him that we had a problem. Sure enough, the loco was hung up on something. This was the first time this unit had been in service, but it had been across the entire main line and though most of the yard without any problems. So we pushed the unit past the grade crossing and the train left Summit Springs.

Shortly thereafter, the crew told me that the train had stopped in the tunnel between Summit Springs and Cedar Falls Junction. Now this was becoming infuriating! I crawled under the railroad and one of the ballast hoppers had derailed. I pulled the car off and we got the rest of the train back together. Fortunately, the train then made it to Morgantown without any additional issues.

These kinds of problems drive me nuts because they don't have to happen. With some time and effort, and a little bit of care, you can achieve almost flawless operation provided you have reasonably good equipment and track. So after the session I backed train up to Summit Springs to sort out the problems.

As the train entered the tunnel between Cedar Falls Junction and Summit Springs, the ballast car derailed again. So I pulled it off and set it aside. The train was then run back and forth several times through the same section of track without any additional issues. So it was off to the grade crossing at Summit Springs.

Sure enough, the loco got hung up again. The photo below shows the offending loco and grade crossing.

Keep in mind that we have run many different locos through this crossing over the years and none have ever had any problems. So I figured it was an issue with this loco. I removed some of the grout from between the rails and it made a small improvement, but the loco still stopped. So I took the loco back to the shop to see if it was a wheel gauge problem.

The photo below shows what I found after I turned the loco over. Note the bumps on the bottom cover under each axle.

This is an Athearn Genesis chassis with a Proto 2000 shell on it. I assume these bumps are to accommodate the gears on the axles. I'm fairly certain that none of the other manufacturers' units that I have on the railroad have trucks that are designed this way. In any event, these bumps decreased the ground clearance just enough to cause the unit to hang up on the grade crossing. After removing some more material from between the rails, the unit passed over it without any issues.

As for the ballast hopper, this car had traversed the railroad numerous times in the past without issue. A quick check of the trucks, however, revealed the problem- the car had code 88 wheelsets. I bought the car used and didn't notice this when I painted and lettered it. The photo below shows the difference between the code 88 wheels and the code 110's that have replaced them.

All of the track on the railroad is hand-laid and there's just enough variation in gauge that code 88 wheels will give me problems periodically. That's why I have standardized on code 110's for all rolling stock. I had this same problem with a covered hopper car that I bought used and it gave me fits until I figured out that it had code 88 wheels on it. Lesson learned. The hard way- again.

Fortunately, the problems were found quickly and the fixes are easy. I'm just disappointed that they cropped up during the session.

Here's one last shot of X-1824 holding the siding at Summit Springs. And when it proceeds west this time, it will run the way it was meant to!



  1. The Gremlins love to come out only when you have guests over for some weird reason. Glad you found the culprits.

  2. I appreciate your diligence to fix problems promptly even fixing the turnout in Nelsonville while I was working the yard. Even with the Gremlins....A fun session!

  3. Just be thankful it wasn't a short circuit causing the train to stop. Those are the worst to track down!

  4. I have a number of Atlas/Kato Geeps on the SNR that have those same nubs. I also never had a problem with them until one specific engine started hanging up. It was a complete mystery until I figured out the gearbox cover plate had come loose in one corner, so was hanging down about 1/32" - almost undetectable.

    Tom, just so you know - from the other side of the layout, I had no idea there was a problem until reading this! Great ops as always - thanks.

  5. A good ops session is not complete without mechanical issues experienced just like everyday on the real one. Broken knuckles on a helix are more commonplace with plastic couplers.


  6. Glad you were able to track down the issues fairly quickly Tom.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.