The Joint Line, the Milwaukee Road Coast Division, 3rd Sub; 26 miles of single track ABS; from MP 2166 at Black River, to MP 2192 at Tacoma Junction; was a different universe from all that it connected. For Union Pacific crews, it was two notches down from the double track CTC, Burlington Northern Pacific Division, 3rd Sub, over which they operated for most of their Seattle to Portland run. Compared to Seattle Yard, the Joint Line, was several notches up. In relation to the Chicago mainline, the Milwaukee proper east of Maple Valley, the road was similar; it was the Joint Line's industrial nature with its intense switching responsibilities; and the presence of Union Pacific trains, that distinguished it. Between Black River and the Twin Cities, there was no operating environment as demanding. And compared to the South Line, the 4th Sub, on the "west" side of Tacoma Jct, the difference was between a modern ABS signaled railroad, shared by two modern transcontinental giants; and a patchwork of old time logging roads, characterized by elderly and poorly engineered track in all dark territory, with sections of encroaching forest canopy but subject to the anomaly of through Portland trains which, considered branch line jobs, were in fact long distance through freights in extension of the transcontinental mainline.

Idyllic Scene Belies Joint Line Industrial Nature picture105_edited.jpg View South (Time Table West), near Sumner, Pierce County - 1977 - New CTC Signals not yet in service

Washington (Coast) Division, 3rd Sub photo_2004_4_8_14_42_31_edited.jpg from Montana and Washington Division Joint Time Table No. 1 - Thursday, January 1, 1976

The Joint Line was under the control of the Milwaukee Dispatcher, located in the D Street Freight House. To run on the line, outside of yard limits, a clearance was required, if running on one of the schedules; or a clearance and a "running" order if running extra. For U.P. crews, arrival at Black River or Tacoma Junction meant that it was time to wake up and think, in contrast to their 140 mile run on the fast yet somnolent Burlington Northern double track CTC. Milwaukee crews, who rarely had it easy, were of course always thinking.

In common parlance, the word "schedule" refers to the arrival or departure time of a train, plane, or other conveyance. But on the railroad, schedule meant much more. Schedule was a legal term which authorized the movement of a given train on a given track between given stations, for 12 hours. Any kind of train could run on any schedule if the engine of that train was issued a clearance which granted the authority of that schedule to the engine in question (a clearance had to be issued at the scheduled starting point on each subdivision). Thus a freight train could run on the schedule of a passenger train; even a cab hop using a yard engine could run on that schedule; and it didn't matter to what Road the train belonged. A schedule was a device for the dispatcher to authorize trains; it was not a public relations brochure to describe service. photo_2004_4_8_15_14_9_edited.jpg Under Rules 70, S-71 and D-71 ("S" = single track; "D" = double track), "Right is conferred by train order; class and direction by timetable." "Schedule.-That part of a timetable which prescribes class, direction, number and movement for a regular train" ("Definitions" p. 11). A schedule and a clearance at the initial station of subdivision granted authority to a train to move within the superiority and movement described in the time table. But the dispatcher could trump all of this with train orders granting "right" in contravention of the schedule.


An example of how the Joint Line was operated according to the Superiority of Trains is shown in the adjoining clearance, train orders, and time table. We see that there were six daily schedules on the Joint Line from which the dispatcher could choose to govern any particular train. In this case, our train was presumably an Othello to Tacoma job that probably moved as an Extra West for the 182 miles from Othello to Black River. In the process of setting out at Black River, the train used the B.N. 11th Sub mains, and at some point was close enough to Black River Tower to physically receive their orders for the Joint Line for the final run into Tacoma. Those orders, according to the clearance, converted Extra Milwaukee 191 West (on the 11th Sub, it was "Extra Milwaukee 191 West," not "Extra 191 West") into a regular train: Second 951. We learn this from reading the clearance. We also read that we were to display "Green Signals," the use of which informed us, and everyone we were to encounter, that there would be a "Third 951" (if the dispatcher changed his mind later, he would have to issue an order to everyone involved that "Third 951 is annulled, Black River to Tacoma Jct"). We see from the time table that "EASTWARD TRAINS ARE SUPERIOR TO WESTWARD TRAINS OF THE SAME CLASS" and note from the fact that our schedule is an odd number that we were in fact a westward train, and thus inferior to opposing second class trains. We would also have seen from the time table that at 5:30 pm (on the clearance) that the schedules for Number 950 and 82 were still alive and kickin' (schedules were alive for 12 hours until fulfilled or annulled). At this late hour, both opposing schedules were due at Black River, and since Rule S-87 required "An inferior train must clear the time of opposing superior trains not less than five minutes," something had to give. And this is where the dispatcher came in, with the orders shown above. On order 129, he waived the problem of Number 950 by informing us that "NUMBER 950 HAS ARRIVED AT BLACK RIVER." And he eliminated the problem of what to do if we encountered Number 82 displaying green signals (egads, more than one 82?) by giving us right over Second 82 all the way to Tacoma Jct. But what about that pesky Number 82? That problem was resolved with order 128, which sets up a positive meet with 82 at Kent. We also learn that 82 is a Union Pacific train, "Engine U P 3119." And who took the siding? We did. Was this because they were a rich road and we a poor one? No, it was because they were superior in direction, they were an "eastward" train and we a westward (a true irony here, for while that U.P. train ran from U.P. Albina Yard in Portland over the Burlington Northern Third Sub as "Extra U P 3119 East," on its own railroad from Omaha to Portland, it would have run as "Extra 3119 West").


If you were working the Valley Owl, off on the side somewhere, how did you keep up with all these Second 951's and Third 82's, etc? Per Rule 15 "ENGINE WHISTLE SIGNALS": "(k) -oo SINGLE TRACK - To call attention of engine and train crews of trains of the same class, inferior trains and yard engines, and of trains at train order meeting points to signals displayed for a following section. If not answered by a trains, the train displaying signals must stop, notify them and ascertain the cause, except in CTC territory, the train displaying signals will not stop."

West Siding - Kent picture151_edited.jpg View West from the mainline: the calm before the storm




© 1976-2007 John Crosby. Photos may not be used without permission. All rights reserved.