kevin_standlee: (Kevin and Lisa)
After returning to the hotel with our purchases, Lisa and I stopped to have one of the sodas we bought and rest our feet. I checked messages and saw on Facebook that Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley were back in their hotel room as of only an hour earlier. I called Kevin and asked if they would like to meet for lunch, and they agreed, so we collected our things and headed back downtown.

A second reason for going back to the hotel was that I had a poster tube with the small vinyl WSFS banner (made by Sasquan) that hangs from the front of the Business Meeting table with me, and I wanted to mail it home rather than somehow try to fit it into my already overloaded luggage. The post office is downtown between the train station and the Sokos hotel where Kevin and Andy were staying, so this worked out well. The trains are running again, and there were no queues at the post office, so we managed to connect with K&A roughly on time to head off on a Viking Expedition.

We're Gonna Starve! )

After lunch, we bade K&A goodbye because we were aiming for one more hobby shop for Lisa to look for trains. It was a longer walk than I thought it would be, partially because I rather unnecessarily went up and down hills getting there. We didn't find anything Lisa wanted to get, but we found yet another person who described herself as a "con-goer" who had known about Worldcon but had not gone. We told her that Worldcon would be in Dublin in two years and she sounded interested.

Given our location, we took the opportunity to ride the Helsinki Metro. Because Cheryl's friend Otto gave us a lift from the ferry terminal when we arrived and our other trips didn't take us along the axis of the Metro, we'd never had a chance to sample it. This was more of a joy-ride, but when you've bought a multi-day unlimited transit pass, you have the ability to hop on and off systems like this.

<a data-flickr-embed= )

An afterthought from this morning: We had an interesting piece of equipment follow us down the tram tracks when we first set out for our first round of tourism and shopping.

A Tidy System is a Safe System )

After a brief recovery time in the hotel (and a final short grocery stop for a snack for tonight and for tomorrow morning), Lisa remembered something she had seen in Stockmann's department store downtown, so we made one final round trip downtown. I think we got good value from our transit pass.

Returning from the last trip, we threaded our way through the latest batch of tourists trying to figure out the elevators, Lisa took a bath, I composed journal entries, and we continued our packing. The alarm for tomorrow is set for 4:15 because we need to take an early train to get out to the airport for the flight to Iceland tomorrow.

We have had a wonderful time here in Helsinki. I would love to get a chance to come back here someday. Everyone was so good to us, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
kevin_standlee: (To Trains)
Here I restart the numbering of the days in our Worldcon trip, not including the five days of Worldcon itself.

Lisa and I intended to go to the Finland Railway Museum originally on Tuesday so that we could sleep in today; however, the VR (Finnish Railways) drivers union had other ideas. They called a strike to start at 18:00 Monday through 18:00 Tuesday. Therefore, if we were to go up to Hyvinkää where the museum was located, we needed to do it Monday (and get back before 18:00) or Wednesday, the day before we leave Helsinki. We decided to do it Monday. However, that meant we were running on maybe four hours of sleep when we made our way over to Pasila this morning.

To the Trains! )

We continued on to the downtown shopping center and found what to us seemed like a bargain, in an all-you-can-eat sushi/Chinese buffet for €10.50. We ate our fill. I wish this place had been near Messukeskus!

Escaping the Strike )

We boarded our Helsinki-bound train and found a pair of facing seats. Fortunately, we were going counter-commute, and people had apparently also been making alternative plans because of the strike. Initially, we thought we might ride all the way into Helsinki and then after getting dinner ride back to the hotel on a tram (the trams/buses are unaffected by the strike), but both Lisa and I kept falling asleep on the train, and Lisa said we should just go back to the hotel and go to bed.

The Elevator of Doom )

Lisa fell into bed, and I admit I almost did so as well, but there were some groceries I wanted, so I took my tote bag and went back down to the lobby. Although most of the fans have moved out, the place is filling up again with tourist groups and tennis players (an ITF tournament is in town this week). I ran across some of us late stayers (including Dave Lally) in the lobby, and ended up sitting down and shooting the breeze for a lot longer than I intended before I walked down to Lidl for more supplies. By the same I got back from the store, I had some second wind and thus decided I'd better get these photos online, including the Finland Railway Museum album.

Tomorrow we're in Helsinki. We're considering our plans, which probably include going to Suomenlinna, which is accessible on local transit because the ferry is included in transit passes. However, I'm going to see about not setting an alarm tomorrow morning. We need a recovery day.
kevin_standlee: (Go By Train)
This evening, we made plans to take Chris Carson out to dinner for his birthday. We were to meet at Japanese restaurant northwest of Helsinki Central train station. The most straightforward way to reach it would have been a bus ride from the convention center, but Lisa and I, having already purchased a day pass on the system, decided to ride the train downtown, then walk to the restaurant.

Spot the Bear )

After dinner, we once again could have taken a bus, but we preferred tram (Line 4) to Central Station. Line 7, which would have taken us straight to the convention center, is replaced by the 7x bus due to construction of Pasila Station. We'll take buses if we must, but we prefer rail transit even if it's not the shortest journey.

A Couple of Train Station Photos )

Four minutes after departure, we got off at Pasila. We'll be on the trains again tomorrow. We wish we'd done a bit more research over the cost of transit passes. A 1-day pass (which you can buy on board the trams and buses) is €9. A 2-day pass (which you must get from a ticket machine at a station) is €13.50 and is obviously a much better value. All Worldcon members will receive transit passes good for the convention days, but that does us no good on the "shoulder" days like today and tomorrow.

The restaurant? Well, I can't say as I recommend Umeshu. I've had much better. It wasn't bad, but I don't think it was all that great, either. But we enjoyed the company.

Between the past two days, I've logged more than 20K steps, but 3/4 of them were today, because of the semi-enforced idleness on board ship. My feet already hurt, and we're only at Worldcon day -2.

Now I hope I can get some sleep because we have to be up early to get Lisa back downtown for the 8 AM departure of the tour to the nuclear power plant.
kevin_standlee: (To Trains (T&P))
This morning we slept in a bit (which for me means 7 AM instead of 5 AM), had breakfast in the lounge, and packed out of the hotel room. The last took longer than expected because lots of other people were moving out at the same time and all of the luggage carts were in use. But we eventually got everything out of the room. Lodgecombing takes a lot longer for a one-bedroom apartment than for a typical hotel room. We said goodbye to one of the best hotel rooms we've ever had and turned north on US-95 heading for Tonopah.

The driving was a balancing act. If we drove at full speed, we couldn't run the air conditioning, but if we drove too slowly, it also caused overheating. So Lisa kept our speeds down (but not too far down) and balanced that against running the AC. Even on full Max AC, it was hard to hold out the 45°C temperatures with which Las Vegas and Beatty were cursed. Beatty was our last fuel stop before we get home. I did not buy more sugar-free chocolate raisins, but I did get some very nice (but also very expensive) wild boar jerky.

Today's trip was only about 200 miles, but on occasions, both Lisa and I got really tired and had to swap drivers to try and keep us fresh. One of the stops was the Area 51 Travel Center, where Kuma Bear had an Alien Experience.

Our inability to do long stretches (particularly on a hot desert highway like US-95 in Nevada) at the end of a long road trip is one of the reasons we planned to stop at Tonopah tonight. The other reason was so we could stop in Goldfield.

Museum Day )

Heading north from Goldfield, it started to cloud up, which was wonderful. The van's air conditioning started working better, and we only had to turn it off for the last heavy climb into Tonopah, and during that climb we even started getting bits of rain. Although it was still in the mid-30s C, it was still 10°C cooler than Las Vegas, which was really very nice.

We got to the Tonopah Station Hotel at about 5:45, roughly seven hours and 225 miles after we left Las Vegas. After checking in (they gave us the same room as the last time we stayed here) and getting me some milk from Scolari's grocery next door, we had dinner in the restaurant. The restaurant had a nice rib-eye steak special that we both ordered for dinner, and we remarked as how much nicer we find these smaller places than the over-pressured places in Vegas. Reno/Sparks is the "big city" for us. Vegas is too frenetic and loud.

After dinner, Lisa and I had a pleasant evening walk — something we couldn't do in Tempe or Vegas because of the heat &mdahs; and we went back to the hotel. Tomorrow we have the last 200 miles to go before we get home, regroup, and begin planning for the Worldcon trip.
kevin_standlee: (Trains)
Yesterday evening, while I was in the kitchen washing dishes from dinner, I heard Lisa shout for me to come outside quickly. From the sound of an oncoming train I had an inkling that it was something special. And it was, but it took too long for me to get the camera to activate to get a good picture of it.

Parting Shot )

After the train came through, we took a short walk and got a companion shot to yesterday's morning solstice sunrise.

Sunrise, Sunset )

Thank goodness it's sort of cooling down at night here (at least dropping below 20°C) or else it would be nearly impossible to get any sleep. Also, the daytime highs are slightly lower than their peaks earlier this week, which helps a lot. Lisa has been staying in the travel trailer (where the only full air conditioning is) during the day, and I can't blame her for that. I'm surviving with the swamp cooler and fans running full-tilt except when I have to turn them off for a conference call.
kevin_standlee: (Wonderful Trains)
This afternoon, I saw a piece of equipment on the lead car of a Union Pacific intermodal train that Lisa had seen before, but was new to me.

Union Pacific Arrowedge )

Most trains are traveling slowly through the area today due to maintenance work on this stretch. The maintenance equipment is parked on the House Track across the street from Fernley House tonight again.
kevin_standlee: (To Trains)
Yesterday afternoon, the eastbound California Zephyr came by relatively slowly because it was following another train. Lisa was out on the porch and called for me to come and grab my camera.

Odd but Beautiful Equipment )

More searching suggests that the faux-Pennsy car is an experimental track-monitoring-and-measurement car.
kevin_standlee: (Watch for Train Traffic)
Fernley's Black Bear Diner, where we had dinner on Friday, is at East Fernley, which is the east end of Fernley siding on the Union Pacific mainline. (We live almost exactly halfway down the siding, which is why we seem to see a lot of rolling meets as trains pass here.) After dinner, we walked over to have a closer look at the signal and associated equipment, and our timing was just right for a dramatically lit photo.

All Red at East Fernley )

The signals here were both red, which may have meant there was a train coming our way, so we got away from the tracks and went home.
kevin_standlee: (SMOF License)
I left for Yuba City around 7:30 this morning, after having breakfast at the Wigwam. No free breakfast won this week; that's why it's called gambling.

Rabbits and Trains )

It was excellent traveling weather in the morning, and I made good time. I'll write more about the full day later, but it took me to Yuba City, then to Sacramento. I'd packed an overnight bag in case I needed to stay down there, but after stopping for dinner in Auburn around 5:30 PM, I decided to push on home.

Cutting it Close )

Wet snow began to accumulate on the windshield, but not the road. I had some difficulty getting the windshield to clear even with the defroster on full blast. Fortunately, the snow faded away around Floriston, just before the Nevada state line. It rained thereafter off and on until just east of Fernley, where it was windy but dry when I got home. Lisa had a fire going.

In retrospect, although I did get home safely, it would have been more prudent of me to have stopped for the night at Colfax and to have come home tomorrow. But I'm here now and I don't have to travel again until next Sunday. I hope it won't be snowing again then!
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Here's a selection of the photos I took on the train trip from Reno to the Bay Area last Saturday. Click through any of them to go to the full set.

Plenty of Snow in Them Thar Hills )

As I wrote earlier, after getting dinner at Emeryville, I caught a Capitol Corridor train to Fremont, collected my minivan, and drove home via Tracy and Sacramento.

I do very much enjoy this trip. I have yet to get tired of making it. If there was an easier way to work out the logistics (in particular, where would I park the Rolling Stone), I'd leave the RV in Fremont and commute back and forth by rail as needed.
kevin_standlee: (Fernley)
My train is running roughly an hour late, so I won't be able to get breakfast on board; however, that meant I did have time to walk to the Wigwam Restaurant and have breakfast there. (And also win it back on a free-play slot coupon.) On the way home, I was taken by how clear the weather was today.

Literally Not a Cloud in the Sky )

It was only just above freezing, but it did not feel that cold due to all of the sunshine and no wind.

According to the Amtrak web site, my train is now just passing the US-95 grade crossing south of I-80, so it's about time for me to shut down and finish packing so Lisa can take me to Reno.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
As of this evening, the train that I'll be catching at Reno tomorrow morning around 8:30 AM was through Green River UT on time, so I'll need to be up tomorrow as if it were a usual work day for me. But that's okay. If I get tired, I can sleep on the train. I've confirmed with my mechanic that I'll be able to collect the Astro from him. I haven't picked a hotel yet because it will depend on when I actually get to Fremont. When the Zephyr hits everything right, there's a negative connection at Emeryville (i.e. I can connect to at train that leaves before the Zephyr's scheduled arrival at EMY, because that includes almost an hour of "recovery time."), and if that happens, I can go farther tomorrow night before laying over.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
I confirmed with my mechanic in Fremont the arrangements for me reclaiming the Astro this weekend. It's a good thing I didn't try to go on Saturday when he had gone away on a trip; it was parked trapped behind other vehicles in his yard. I have therefore purchased a one-way ticket Reno-Emeryville-Fremont for this Saturday. I'll collect the minivan and stay in a hotel somewhere between Fremont and Sacramento, visit my sister on Sunday, and drive home. Theoretically I could just drive home on Saturday, but I don't want to risk it. Unlike the RV, I can't just easily pull over and take a nap. (I did once stop for the night at the Gold Run rest area on I-80 when driving home in the Rolling Stone because I'd gotten away from work so late that day.)

I'm looking forward to the train ride through the Sierra with all of the snow they've had up there. The drive home is less fun, of course. I'm glad that I don't have to make the trips as often as I used to do.
kevin_standlee: (Watch for Train Traffic)
Early this morning (I'm still working Central Zone hours), I heard on the radio scanner the Union Pacific dispatcher telling a train near us (at Darwin siding, about ten miles east) that they'd been put in the siting because of a "hot passenger train." That seemed odd to me, because Amtrak wasn't due for a couple more hours. A bit later, the dispatcher told the "Fernley Flyer" that they could go down to the east end of Fernley siding and wait for the "hot passenger train" to go by.

I got an idea of what other kind of passenger train UP might be running, and a took a short break from work to go look. My timing was good.

Special Coming Through! )

Trains like this have very high priority (they usually have important railroad officials on board), so the dispatcher was clearing everything into sidings to make room for it.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
I don't actually have to be in the Bay Area next week, so we were working on ways to get the Astro back that don't require Lisa having to make a 600-mile trip in one day. The best plan seemed to be for me to take the train down on Saturday, collect the minivan, and either drive home the same day or go part-way and stay in a hotel, then come home Sunday. The challenge is getting my spare keys back from my mechanic. (I can pay him by phone.) But it turns out that he's on vacation today and tomorrow anyway, and thus I decided it would be better to not even try this weekend. He might have parked my van in a place on his lot where I can't get it out. Furthermore, my National Association of Railroad Passengers discount on Amtrak tickets requires a three-day advance purchase. So I'll talk to him early next week and make plans.
kevin_standlee: (Beware of Trains)
A couple of evenings ago, I was returning home from a post-dinner walk (I eat relatively early because of the Central Zone time I need to keep for the Day Jobbe at the moment) and saw that "Big BN," the through BNSF freight, was in the Fernley "House Track" (the small 2-track yard they use in Fernley).

3 Not of a Kind )

Was was actually unusual was that the locomotives were all the way into the House Track. Normally they just switch cars in and out, then collect the rest of their train that they left on the main line, then continue on their way. But as I walked by, I could see that the conductor was in the process of tying down the train, setting the hand brakes, throwing switches, setting derails (devices that will deliberately derail any cars that might otherwise roll onto the main line before they can foul the main), and in particular setting the mainline switch that connects to the house track "for normal movement." (That is, trains on the main will stay on the main.) This is a manual switch, but is connected to the system electrically so that the dispatcher knows when the switch is open and doesn't try to route a train down the main.

What was also highly noticeable was the noise. I don't mean the normal sound of an idling diesel locomotive. I mean the sound of what I think was a sick one. The lead unit of these three was making a loud THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA sound, almost like a old single-cylinder vintage engine like those we've seen at the Great Oregon Steam-Up in Brooks. That locomotive sounded like it was in bad shape.

Going inside, I could hear on the radio the crew talking with the dispatcher. The crew was about to do go "dead on the law," meaning that they were at their maximum 12 hours of service, after which time they must stop work immediately, upon pain of losing their licenses. The dispatcher asked if they had parked their train on the main, and they explained that they were so short on time that they had done their set-out and pick-up at Fernley, but then parked the train within the House Tracks. Fortunately, they were relatively short today and there wasn't much waiting in the House Tracks, so there was actually room to squeeze them in there. This made things easier on the dispatcher, because otherwise the Fernley Main would be out of service and trains would have to be routed through the siding, which slows down everything.

A little while later, the crew van came to take the BNSF crew to Sparks. But the lumping locomotive continues. Now Lisa and I like trains, and we're used to train noise, but this was pretty bad. We speculate that one reason why Big BN ran out of hours is that the Thumper wasn't putting out much power, which slowed down their train, and made it so they couldn't complete their work at Fernley and continue on to Sparks without running out of hours.

I had to go to bed, which I did manage despite the Thumper. Lisa says that later that evening, a crew van brought a relief crew to rescue the stranded train. The Thumper finally shut down, or possibly died a final death, just before the relief crew arrived. But problems were not over yet. Apparently the mainline switch got stuck, meaning that the crew had to get permission from the dispatcher to break a seal and operate the interlocking manually, which they did, and which allowed them to leave, but also meant that a track maintainer had to be dispatched to fix the switch and interlocking that protects it. You really don't want an unprotected mainline switch there, not with trains coming through at 60 miles per hour — being unexpectedly turned into the 10 mph House Tracks would ruin your day as well as ours here at Fernley House.

As I say, we like trains, but we were not sad to see (and hear) the BNSF Thumper leave town.

Flag Stop

Feb. 25th, 2017 08:22 pm
kevin_standlee: (Watch for Train Traffic)
Today was not a good day for the dispatcher on the Nevada Subdivision of the Union Pacific (Sparks to Winnemucca). Something was gumming up the works in Sparks Yard. I heard him telling crews over the radio, "There's no room at the inn." (That is, there was no room in Sparks to park trains.) With a shortage of relief crews as well, trains were being tied down in sidings, and the crews were stuck there. In some cases, the usual crew vans (run by a contractor) couldn't get to the sidings in question, because they were in places with no road access. So the dispatcher was obliged to use the one train that was able to get through as an impromptu rail taxi service.

Hey, Taxi! )

It snowed about 3 cm overnight. I cleared snow from the porch and sidewalk before going off to the Wigwam for breakfast, where thanks to interacting free-play coupons and some good luck, I won $29, which paid for that breakfast and the one after that as well. Once the snow stopped falling around Noon and the sun came out, all of the snow not in shaded areas (like the north side of Fernley House) started melting pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I'm glad we didn't have any travel plans for this weekend.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Amtrak normally runs two trains a day across northern Nevada: Numbers 5 and 6, the west- and east-bound California Zephyr. However, for the past several weeks, service has been suspended and the train's Chicago-Emeryville (for San Francisco) run has been truncated to Salt Lake City, due to various mudslides, washouts, and other weather-related disruption. This messed up [livejournal.com profile] gridlore and [livejournal.com profile] kshandra's plans to come to Reno, which is a shame on multiple levels.

I could find nothing on Amtrak's web site about the service disruption, other than when you tried to check the train's status, you got a "cannot provide status due to a service disruption; call us for more information." It would have been nice if they'd given us Westerners the same courtesy they do when the Northeast Corridor services are disrupted. I found out what was happening from a railroad fans message board.

Union Pacific and Amtrak finally got things back together, and two days ago, the first westbound Zephyr started for the west coast again.

Coming Through... Slowly )

I heard #5 on the radio scanner as the engineer acknowledged the signals at East Fernley putting it into the siding to allow for a meet with an eastbound local freight (the "Fernley Flyer"). Thus the train, which normally blows through on the main at the maximum allowed track speed of 70 mph, was coasting along on the siding. They were only delayed a few minutes, though, as the "Flyer" arrived just as Amtrak pulled up to West Fernley.

I'm not sure when eastbound service will be restored. The train that came through westbound this morning isn't visible on the Amtrak "track a train" map, and there's a train #6 showing eastbound between Fernley and Winnemucca that I didn't notice going by this morning. If it's really there and not a mistake on the Amtrak system, it might be a set of equipment deadheading to get equipment back where it belongs.
kevin_standlee: (Beware of Trains)
Here's video released yesterday from the National Transportation Safety Board in relationship to a train derailment and fire at Casselton ND on December 30, 2013. Their finding was that a defective axle on the grain train (that's the train with which we're riding initially as the video starts) caused the train to derail. A crude oil train (you'll hear the crew calling that they are a "key train" which means they're carrying lots of flammable material like oil) coming the other way plows into the derailed cars and crashes off the rails itself. The oil tankers rupture and a big fire ensues.

Things to note is when the first train (grain) goes into emergency braking involuntarily — that's because the train air line broke when it derailed, triggering an emergency braking. This is different from the oil train voluntarily going into emergency because its engineer "big holed" it (hit the emergency brake). By the time the oil train went into emergency, it was too late, though.

This video mostly has no sound until near the very end, when you hear the radio call of a railroad signal maintainer (truck visible earlier in the video) calling that he'd seen something go wrong, and of the crew of the oil train calling after they'd derailed and crashed off the rails telling the dispatcher they were on fire and that they were getting out of their train immediately.

One time I wouldn't have wanted to be riding on the train )

Personally, I'm amazed the crew of the oil train stuck around as long as they did, and that they escaped relatively uninjured from what could have been a deadly pile-up.
kevin_standlee: (Snow Day)
Whatever was clogging LJ's pipes for the past day or so seems to have cleared again. You'd think they'd realize the problem after it happened once.

Last night we got rain, then snow, then rain, then below-freezing temperatures. This has turned the porch and sidewalk into ice-skating rinks. Lisa is on nights at the moment and did what she could, laying down more grit to improve traction.

The weather situation in the Sierra Nevada remains dire (although good for potential drought relief it it remains as snow instead of immediately melting and causing flooding. I heard yesterday that Amtrak has been turning the California Zephyr at Reno and not crossing the mountains, which explains why the eastbound train yesterday appeared to be dark. (Although I assume that passengers with tickets out of Reno eastbound were being accommodated.) From another source on Facebook (a Union Pacific employee), I read that UP has their snow spreaders out. They might have to resort to the Big Guns: the rotary snowplows.

It's difficult to tell yet whether it will be safe for me to drive to the Bay Area this weekend.

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