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Railcamp 2018

By September 10, 2018Features

By Logan Dahir

Reproduced with permission from the Washington DC Chapter NRHS Timetable.

[Ed. Note:  The following is Logan Dahir’s report on the NRHS RailCamp 2018. Logan attended RailCamp under the sponsorship of DCNRHS’ G. Lawson Clark RailCamp scholarship, which is awarded annually to a high school student interested in railroading. RailCamp 2018 was held from June 24 – July 1 at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE. Logan graduated this year from Bruton High School in Williamsburg, VA. Logan, who is a lifelong rail fan, plans to pursue a career with Amtrak. He has worked for a year and a half as a conductor on the Busch Gardens Railway and will be moving up to the engine crew. Logan has ridden the Dover Harbor and was encouraged to apply for the scholarship by member Lawrence Biemiller.]

Ever since 2010 I had been interested in RailCamp. I saw an ad for it online and thought I should keep it in mind for when I entered high school. In my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I thought about applying, but I put it off. At the halfway point of my senior year, a friend who is a member of DCNRHS encouraged me to apply for the scholarship. I decided that it was worth a shot to apply since I have a bit to offer and I like writing about myself and trains. So, after many days of thinking, I wrote my essay, in which I exceeded the maximum number of words (sorry). I then waited and waited till April, when I got the email that I had been selected for the scholarship. I was overjoyed and looked forward to June 24th.

The 24th came, and I was a little nervous because it was my first time alone in the Northeast and I didn’t know what to expect in the Wilmington, DE, train station. But during the van ride from the station to the University of Delaware, I discovered that I knew one person. We arrived at the university a little while later, and over time more and more campers began to show up. Tony gave us our hats, shirts, and binders and told us to be back downstairs by 4 pm. As 4 pm rolled around, we all gathered downstairs for the first official group meeting of RailCamp 2018. We introduced ourselves, and then went to dinner at the cafeteria. After dinner, we received a presentation on Operation Lifesaver and one from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. After that, we filled out our lunch orders for the week. Once all that was done, we headed upstairs for bed. We were all tired but excited about visiting Amtrak the next day. We were told RailCamp would be the shortest week of our lives.

My alarm rang at 6:15 am the next morning. The day I had been looking forward to the most had come; the training day at Amtrak was here! This day was very important to me since I plan to apply at Amtrak by the end of the year, and at the training center I could ask questions about hiring on with Amtrak and meet my possible future instructors. The day started off with some classroom time that included a brief overview of what it is like to work for Amtrak, the training process, and finally a brief lesson on signals. There were activities planned throughout the afternoon. My favorite was the locomotive simulator.

P42 Simulator at Amtrak’s Wilmington Training Center.

Most of us have simulators at home to run an Amtrak train, but none of us have a full-size simulator to play on. I was able to use the P42 simulator, the ACS-64 simulator, and the Acela simulator. My personal favorite was the P42 simulator since I see P42s often and I have friends that run them. We were also allowed to take a spin at the dispatcher simulator, a new experience for me. The final activity of the day was a P42 locomotive tour and a horn blowing opportunity. Obviously, that was the favorite, since most campers had never been in the cab of a P42 before.

On Tuesday, we headed to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (RRMPA). The day at RRMPA was fun. We got to visit the cabs and insides of exhibits like the AEM-7, GG1, PRR steam locomotive speedster No. 7002, and the Pullman car. Another great part was the ability to tour their restoration shop. I had been going to the museum for over 10 years and had never been in there before. After lunch at Isaac’s, we worked on our group project. Our group was assigned the Heisler steam locomotive, which we were to do a report on by the end of the week. Lastly was an extensive but fun scavenger hunt throughout the museum.

Wednesday was a day that every Amtrak fan would remember. It stated off with a tour of the Wilmington shops. We were able to see a Non-powered Control Unit (NPCU), an HHP-8, and an ACS-64. After the shop tour, we headed over to the Consolidated National Operations Center (CNOC) in Wilmington. At CNOC, we were able to tour the Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control (CETC) dispatch center, and the CNOC center, which were both very impressive in their own way.

Dispatcher screens at Amtrak’s Centralized Electrification and Traffic Control dispatch center.

After our CNOC visit, we walked over to the Wilmington station and waited for our train to Washington. Our train featured three special Amtrak cars:  the Catenary Inspection Car, Corridor Clipper, and American View. To make our train even better, our locomotive was the “Red-Head” ACS-64 No. 642, the Veterans Unit. While on the train, we were split into two groups. Each group had time to ride in the American View and the geometry cars. In the American View, we rode in the rear seats and had an awesome view of the tracks behind us. The highlight of that ride was the rear view inside the Baltimore tunnels with all the lights on.

Rear view from Amtrak’s American View inspection car inside the Baltimore tunnels.

When our turn was over, we went into the Catenary Measurement Car and Corridor Clipper. There, we learned how the cars read and monitor the track and catenary conditions while at speeds over 100 mph. We arrived in Washington around 3:00 pm. Once off the train, we were allowed to photograph the exterior of the train we were on. When we arrived in the station, we broke up into four groups for special tours of Union Station. My first tour covered the history of Union Station. We looked at the station’s historical rooms and went behind the scenes of the Amtrak ticket offices and ticket counters. After that tour, we went off to K-Tower, which directs all movements in and out of Union Station.

View looking north from K-Tower at Washington Union Station.

Next was a tour of the Railway Express Agency (REA) Building. There, we saw more offices that order train movements in and out of Union Station. Once we were done in the REA Building, we went back into the station for the last tour, which was a behind-the-scenes look at how Amtrak Police do their job. We met some Amtrak Police personnel, as well as a K-9 Officer, and we were given a demonstration on how a K-9 Officer performs his job. After the four tours, we had dinner at Uno’s in Union Station and then boarded an Acela Express train back to Wilmington.

Thursday was the most hands-on day of RailCamp. At around 9:00 am, we arrived at the Strasburg Rail Road. We were given a safety briefing and then broke up into four groups for the day’s activities. My first activity was to operate the Lancaster, Oxford & Southern (L.O.&S.) No. 10 rail car. It was pretty cool to operate a self-propelled rail car, as I had never done it before. Next, was a favorite of mine. We got to operate the 15” Cagney, a coal fired steam locomotive. I have ridden the Cagney at least once a year since about 2003. Now, 15 years later, I got to be the engineer of it. It was way too cool! After the Cagney, we ate lunch and moved on to the big project, which was Maintenance of Way (MOW) work. We had to remove two small ties and replace them with one big tie. There were no machines used in this project; it was all manual labor. After that, we went back to the group activities. We were shown how to couple equipment together and use proper railroad hand signals. The last group activity was the “Camp Project”, which was to engrave a railroad spike with “Strasburg Rail Road”. At the end of the day we went to the Red Caboose Motel and ate dinner at their Casey Jones Restaurant.

Friday, the last day of RailCamp, came all too fast. We first returned to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. After putting the final touches on our research project, we presented it to the rest of the campers. After lunch, we headed over to the Strasburg Rail Road for our 2:00 pm train ride to Paradise. All the RailCampers rode in a passenger car (Western Maryland No. 105) reserved just for us. Once the train ride was over, we walked down to the engine house. There, Strasburg had brought out No. 89, a 2-6-0 steam locomotive, for us to ride in.

Strasburg 2-6-0 #89.

It was neat getting to ride in a Strasburg locomotive, as that is prohibited by the railroad at any other time. After the cab ride we over to the Casey Jones Restaurant for dinner again. When we returned to the university after dinner, we read our journals aloud and told about the favorite things we did at RailCamp.

Overall, RailCamp was an amazing experience. I am very thankful that the D.C. Chapter chose me for the 2018 Scholarship. Attending RailCamp allowed me to make some close friends and experience the hidden side of railroading. I recommend RailCamp to anyone in high school who has a passion for trains and wants to make a career out of it, like me. It will definitely help you decide what you want to do in your future. RailCamp was the shortest but greatest week of my life.

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