It all begins with the first T-Alert.
I get up, shower, pack my lunch, and eat breakfast. Then I check my email on my phone, also checking the T-Alerts folder just in case. Usually I leave home before my train, P508, even starts its run so the alert doesn't come in time for me to receive it.
P502, the 5:40 Worcester train, is experiencing 10-15 minute delays.
Can you say, "Cascading Delays?"
Voice of small children: "Cascading Delays!"
Sure enough, when I pull into Westborough at 7am, there's a train in the station. The way this usually plays out, this is P506, ten minutes late. 011 is shoving on the rear as usual, so I conclude this is the case.
The train departs as I arrive, and I tune to 1630 AM on my car radio for train information. Static, then a recorded message.
"Please tune to 1630 AM for train information."
Okay...that's what the scrolling signs on the platforms always say. Should I file a missing persons report for 1630 AM?
As I'm walking to pay for parking, I hear a train horn to the west. I hurridly shove my forty dimes into slot 107, playing it safe and not wanting to miss whatever was approaching. I've got to start remembering to have dollar bills on hand for this.
The signals at CP 33 give a Limited Clear aspect, red over flashing green on the eastbound main, indicating a diverging route being lined through the CTC interlocking. Another few blasts on the air horns, closer this time, and I realize whatever is approaching belongs to CSX. I pull out my camera and record a trio of CSX diesels rolling east "light," with no cars in tow.
The light engines take the crossover in the distance, changing to the usually westbound track as the signals blink to red, then off as the train clears the interlocking.
(If you're new to railroad signaling, here's a visual guide to signals and what they mean. Most of the signals on the Worcester Line are two-head high signals. I'll also be doing a post about signaling sometime in the future, because it's pretty cool.)
Quiet returns to Westborough, and I'm left more knowledgeable than the confused commuters near me, but with no 3G to check for T-Alerts or better yet, a railroad radio scanner, still very much guessing as to what's going on.
My guess is that my train, due at 7:14, will be along shortly. The Worcester Line is a high-speed, high traffic capacity line, especially out past Framingham, allowing full bi-directional running along the double-tracked route* so any delay wouldn't be due to track capacity.
CSX has received quite a bit of flak for delaying passenger trains both Amtrak and MBTA, but in this case the CSX light engines simply fit into an empty slot between trains. My train, P508, couldn't leave on time because P506 was fouling the tracks needed to pull out of the Worcester layover yard and back into the single-track station to start its run. A trio of light engines with 12,000 horsepower and no weight in tow can easily stay out of the way.
Sure enough, the signals lit up into their usual Clear aspect, green over red, around 7:08 and my train rolled in only three minutes late. P508 is easy to recognize due to lead cab car 1709's muffled bell, which produces a dull "clank" as it rings.
I joined the rear of a throng of commuters boarding the train, found a seat on the end of a triple (my gamble failed, as I write this I'm sitting "bitch" in the center) and sat back for the ride.
We passed the CSX light engines between Westborough yard and Southborough Station, stopped on the other track for us to pass. They cannot run at the same speeds due to speed restrictions on light engines - 30mph for single engines, 50mph for multiple light engines. The reasons various railroads have for these restrictions include the lack of or fewer redundant systems in the air brakes (namely brake cylinders and shoes), the fact that locomotive braking can fail to have no brakes whereas train braking is nearly fail-safe in that regard, and the possibility for derailment caused by excessive truck "hunting."
The ride today was an exception. Usually when P504 is delayed, we catch up to P506 near Wellesley Farms, run along behind it as it makes local stops, and arrive half an hour late. Today we arrived in Boston only a few minutes late, perhaps because P506 was about five minutes less late than is usually is.
So far, the Worcester Line seems to have absorbed the cascade. Let's see how the commute tonight goes.
*except for short sections of single track at Beacon Park Yard in Allston/Brighton and Worcester Union Station, the line is fully double-tracked and bi-directional on both tracks. Other lines such as the Fitchburg have double-track sections that can only run one direction each on signal indication. To operate wrong-main requires special paperwork and clearance from the dispatcher so it is only done when absolutely neccesary.