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Monday Train Blogging: The Hardest Job

by DoDo Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 11:50:56 AM EST

How are railways kept in shape? Today, you'll see those yellow or red/white work cars going up & down the lines – first the track inspector cars find out what should be repaired, then come the track repair cars.

Earlier, the inspection part was done by men – men on foot. A tough job: whether in snowstorm or heatwave, rain or wind, you had to walk down your daily 10 km; while you had to constantly watch out for loose nails on both rails and trains from both directions at the same time; and you had to make way for coming trains wherever you were – be it into the deep snow on the steep side of an embankment, or off to a small balcony upon windy heights in the middle of a bridge, or off to a small shelter on the side of a noisy and smoke-filled tunnel.

But, that's not yet the hardest job.

That you find on branch lines in Siberia: where there is the job of track worker and inspector in one.

Cold means -55°C. Summer means armies of mosquitoes. The mud you jump into when a train passes means swamps to the horizon. Your daily 10 km walk means carrying the fifty-kilogram replacement rail all the way on your back if necessary. Track repair means two of you do what machines or a track gang of six do elsewhere.

I have nothing but respect for these men.

The Russian (or Soviet) work ethic you see at work here is something totally alien to Westerners. ("Insane", "inhumane", "self-destructive", it would be called.) To get a little closer to understanding it, I recommend a movie, if you can get a hand on it: the heroes of Children of Iron Gods (made by a Hungarian director and an almost entirely Russian cast & crew in 1993) live and work in a giant and decrepit iron smelter. Through accidents and accidental heroism, social realism and a surreal train robbery, we get to the climax, in the form of a crazy bet.

Previous Monday Train Bloggings:

  1. (Premiere/ modern Austrian trains & locos)
  2. Adventure
  3. Fast Steam
  4. Heavy Haul
  5. Forgotten Colorado

Rail stories. I used to do counseling for seniors in retirement homes, and there was one grouchy ol guy that I was asked to talk with, who had been a hobo much his life. LOTS of stories...an edgy kind of character...and after his hobo years he became an engineer for a few years. A tough life out there.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Oct 27th, 2005 at 03:11:20 PM EST
Regrettably, I have no photo for those Siberian track inspectors/workers. (I read of them and saw them in a documentary only.)

But, here is a link for the famed Transsib, and another for its more northerly sister, the BAM - both with lots of photos.

Also: while I consider this the hardest job, the 'job' of forced or slave labourers was of course even harder - and the Transsib was built by such men, while the BAM was begun this way under Stalin.

How the BAM was finished is also interesting: in a last giant propaganda coup of the communist regime, young people were called upon to do the construction on their own, with the promise that they can settle in the new settlements along the line. But the economic miralce didn't happen, those who settled have to struggle to this day, and traffic along the maintenance-intensive and deficitary line is catching up only now. A few photos with workcrews during construction can be seen here, below one that shows how newly laid track looked on the permafrost:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 10:43:47 AM EST
There are some great railroad songs (especially US folk and blues songs), and some awesome railroad movies (Runaway Train, for one...)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 12:15:40 PM EST
Here's how you do it nowadays.

"The Plasser American RM 802 is a High-Production Ballast Undercutting/Cleaning Machine especially designed to work on track with pre-dumped ballast.

The Ballast Pick-up Unit picks up the pre-dumped ballast and moves it onto conveyor belts. A transition conveyor belt fills the first of several MFS type Ballast Conveyor/Hopper Cars. With the help of these units, it is possible to bring new ballast to the worksite. The cutting chain excavates the ballast and passes it on to the screening unit. Here the reusable ballast is separated from waste material. A system of conveyors transport the waste material to the end of the machine, where it is discharged. The cleaned ballast is mixed with the pre-dumped, picked-up and stored ballast and put back to the track directly behind the cutter chain. When working in curves, the shaker boxes can be adjusted to compensate for superelevation. With the RM 802, production rates of up to 2,000 feet per hour are achievable."

by asdf on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:27:28 PM EST

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