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Having grown up in the Chicago/ Milwaukee area, I've seen many long coal trains pulled by two, three, fours loco's. More and more though, these long coal trains seem to have two loco's pulling, and one at the tail end pushing. What is the loco in back called, and why pushing instead of pulling as the past?
 

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Coming from the town of Helper Utah, these engines added to a coal or freight train to push it up over Soldier Summit were, and I believe still today are called Helpers. Sometimes I see them in the middle of the train rather than at the end. They would help the train up over the summit and then return to town for another turn with the next train.
Paul
 

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I've heard them called helpers and pushers. Around Roanoke, VA, on NS (former N&W) it seems that a pusher is an assigned job, pushing trains over a grade. Helpers are power from other trains, pressed into service to help a stalled train. Minor difference, and it's not spelled out anywhere, just an impression I get.

As to why, 4 large diesels have enough tractive effort to break a standard knuckle in a dead pull. Most coal train I've seen use high tensile strength knuckles, which is why we are allowed to use 4 engines on them. Even so, the slightest jerk can still easily break a knuckle. So if more power is needed, it has to be put somewhere besides the head end. Also, keeping pushers on the rear makes it easier to remove them at the top of the hill.

There are also distributed power units, which are radio contriolled from the head end. They're a fixed part of the consist of the train, staying with it for the entire trip. Southern, and I believe a number of other RRs, tried them 20-30 years ago, but eventually abandonded them. I believe there were problems keeping them synchronized with the head end. Newer GE units have a (hopefully new and improved) DP system built in, and it seems to be working better than in the past.
 

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Posted By bottino on 09/16/2008 6:17 PM
Coming from the town of Helper Utah, these engines added to a coal or freight train to push it up over Soldier Summit were, and I believe still today are called Helpers. Paul


Basically true but in reverse...

The locos were always called helpers, and the town of Helper Utah was named AFTER THE LOCOS. The Rio Grande Western established the yard and loco facilities at "Castle Gate" rock, at the mouth of Price Canyon, to aid in pushing coal and freight consist over Soldier Summit. The town that grew around the yard and locomotive shops grew to be known as Helper....

I just drove through there about two weeks ago.
 

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Dave, I did not mean to imply that the engines were named after Helper. Helper clearly was named after the engines. It is nothing now compared to what it used to be in terms of railroad activity.
Paul
 

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Dave F. is right, they are helpers. They are all helpers whether placed in front, middle or rear of the train. The engine or engines assigned to the train are the road engine(s). Helpers were used in places where the grades became more severe for a portion of a train's run. Rather than assign numerous engines or units to the train for its entire run in such situations enough power was assigned to get the train to the bottom of a heavy grade and then beyond the summit with helpers attaching only for the heavy grade and uncoupling at the summit.

If the train isn't too heavy a helper can just be added to the front or to push on the rear. Midtrain helpers as well as rear helpers were used just to get the train over the hill. Then they would cut off and drift back to the helper station to help another train. The reason all the power, road engine(s) and helpers aren't always just stuck on front is to lessen the strain on the couplers in a long heavy train. A 100 car train puts unbelievable strain on the couplers of the leading cars. Most helper grades would have a coupler or two laying alongside the right of way where they had been yanked out of a car. Relieving the strain by using midtrain helpers greatly reduced this occurrence.

Power can be added to a train for two main reasons. Either to heft heavy tonnage at slow drag speeds up a hill or to increase the speed of a shorter express train. In the latter case, especially the diesel era, the extra power would often be assigned to the train for its entire run over a division or beyond.

It doesn't seem that there are nearly as many helper districts as in the past with many modern trains being assigned optimum power to ascend grades and maintain speed for their entire runs. A four unit diesel lashup on the front only uses one crew whereas in steam days each and every locomotive had an engineer and a fireman. Still there are some areas where an increase in grade requires a train to stop and pick up helpers. Always a most interesting operation.
 

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An enjoyable thread. I am always fascinated by the very long trains that run in the States. I see many pics of them in Colorado.
Another point that crossed my mind when trains have helpers in the consist and at the end would be a safety precaution against runaways due to broken/parted couplers.
I already knew about Helper and the origin of the towns name. In reading about the MILW, especially in ID and MT, the name origins that are very amusing in some cases.
Incidentally my local railway line used to haul coal trains to a gas producing plant many years ago. The line rises from sea level up to 200ft. in roughly four miles and the drops down to sea level in the next 3 miles. The coal trains only went in that direction - they were empties when they returned.
The maximum was 33 10ton wooden trucks loaded. A Prairie tank engine was at the point with a similar loco as a rear helper. At the 200ft. summit the helper repositioned itself at the head of the train acting as a brake on the downhill part.
 

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In the early years helpers where added to the rear of a train. They where stationed at locations that has steep grades. Rhe reason for the rear was to be able to cut off once reaching the top of the grade. Once cut off they returned back down the grade either to a siding or small town. Some RR still do this to day on other than coal drags.

With today technology the large coal drags have the helper left on as they are run through trains across country It saves time and money removing locos when going from RR. As mentioned using four locos can break draw bars and knuckles so hence putting helpers at the rear or middle of train eliminates that problem. Of course these locos are remote control. Later RJD
 

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RJ,

I don't think all helpers are unmanned. The ones I saw and worked with on NS's line south of Roanoke to Winston Salem had a crew in the helper. Perhaps it depends on the run and the length of the train?
 

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Occasionally helpers are crewed so they can run the helper sets back to the point of origin once "over the hump" so to speak. It was a common practice in the Tennesse Pass region of Colorado.
 

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Out here in the South West they run distributed power.. That means loco's in front & loco's in the rear.. On the coal drags if the loco's on the rear are running backwards, the engineer & conductor can change train ends & run the emptys back to the coal mines.. On the container trains they do the same thing but it turns the train into a hot-rod..

BulletBob
 

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Dave,I know UP is No longer in service Former DRGW right trackage of climbing & downhill to Tennesse Pass in Colorado.
 

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All,
Lets not forget that sometimes at the end of the train, there were helpers pushing UP the hill and then they were "brake sleds" going downhill.:)" border=0>
Tom
 

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Posted By markoles on 09/17/2008 6:35 AM
RJ,
I don't think all helpers are unmanned. The ones I saw and worked with on NS's line south of Roanoke to Winston Salem had a crew in the helper. Perhaps it depends on the run and the length of the train?


Mark,

You worked on the Pumpkin Vine? I'm jealous. I come in and out of Roanoke via the former Virginian, coming off the Southern out of Linwood. Always wanted to see the Pumpkin Vine from a cab.
 

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Ken,

I was a management trainee based in Roanoke, and worked with an overworked trainmaster for two weeks during the training period. One night, we boarded a mixed merchandise freight from Roanoke to Winston-Salem at Crewe, VA. The trainmaster rode the pusher unit but put me up front with the Engineer and Conductor. It was midnight when we boarded, and a real struggle to stay awake as the GP-50 swayed back and forth as the train struggled along at 15 MPH. When the middle of the train crested the top of the hill, the pushers helped to accelerate us to 35 MPH in about 20 seconds. Not too fast in a car, but you could feel the momentum of the train and it was a little unnerving!! The engineer closed the throttle some, and the lead GP-50 shut down!! I walked back with the conductor who manually cranked the prime mover to get it to start again.

Mark
 
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