1) Every siding and piece of track between two road crossings have been measured, so the length is a known item.
Back before I retired, the VERY BEST list of the lengths between road crossings, or signals, or other locations that were known places where we could stop our train and be clear of crossings and such, came from a GTW/CN Locomotive Engineer named Bill. (Yes, that Bill) You owe me another dollar Bill, for putting in this plug for you!
Also, now, it wasn't a requirement like it is today, but you cannot just start shoving blind. There's supposed to be someone protecting the shove.
This could be the Conductor riding the point, until the Engineer lets him know that the head end is clear. (Of whatever they had to clear, a road crossing, or the clearance point of a siding they are shoving into, or maybe some other item.)
Or there might be another train that is able to protect the shove.
In a lot of Yards now there might be a Utility Man around to assist with long shove moves.
Over the years I've heard it explained several different ways.
1) The "Class" of the trains involved might be a factor, the "Higher" Class train may hold the main, while the "Lower" Class train takes the siding.
2) The length of the trains involved. For example, a 9 car passenger train will enter a siding and be clear of the other track, a LOT faster than a 9000 foot train would.
But, Amtrak Trains are the highest class trains out there today, so all other trains are supposed to be out of the way of an Amtrak Train. Which, everybody knows is not how it usually happens.
3) Which train reaches the meeting point first. Is usually the one that takes the siding, but not always the case.
I can recall working with some of the "Older" Conductors that were very clearly saying that the proper way to do it was to have the train that got there first is the one that takes the siding.
The Holly Subdivision is a great example of meeting two trains that are both too long for any of the sidings.
In that case, one waits somewhere. Usually trains heading toward Pontiac from Durand will stay on the Flint Subdivision until the opposing train arrives Durand, and any train leaving Pontiac that won't fit will stay there at West Pontiac until the other guy gets there.
There were terms used in the past. Saw-By, Double-Saw-By.....but today without a caboose with someone on it to watch what is happening on the rear-end, it's a lot of work to get two trains that are both too long to fit in a siding somewhere to pass each other on single track with a siding somewhere.
One thing about this Amtrak wreck early Sunday morning.... Under normal circumstances, that Amtrak Train should not have been going faster than Restricted Speed.
CTC is ("supposed to be") designed to not give opposing trains a permissive signal, greater than a "Restricting Signal" into each other.
That's why I mentioned above that I read that there had been some Signal Maintainers working in the area.
They have the capability to override the signal system out in the field, from the Bungalows that contain all of the electronics.
That is what happened at Niles back when that little incident of the Amtrak being routed into the yard. The Maintainers had to over ride the system to give that train a Clear Signal. But, there was a switch that was not lined for the correct route and the train ended up heading into the yard.
I've not been trying to follow the story. The "Best" source I have to find out what is going on is with Trainorders, but those guys over there are going nuts.
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