The term “train wreck” is a phrase associated with a manmade disaster, often avoidable.
One place a train wreck could be especially costly is the narrow Cuesta Grade. With tunnels and mountain-hugging road beds, Mother Nature gave railroaders no room for error.
During both World Wars, the Southern Pacific Coast Line carried longer and more frequent trains supporting military bases.
When the line was built in the late 1800s, it ran on the basis of written orders and switches thrown by hand.
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On Sept. 22, 1944, The Telegram-Tribune wrote of a new system installed in San Luis Obispo to speed up train travel.
Electrical Control Board Speeds Up Rail Traffic
Like playing a fine piece of music in which no mistakes are allowed, Southern Pacific train dispatchers are operating a “keyboard” of remote electrical controls in San Luis Obispo to govern the movement of victory trains over the hill between here and Santa Margarita in such volume as would have been impossible before the war.
70 Per Cent More Trains
Over the predominantly single-track line, complicated with tunnels and with grades of 2.2 per cent requiring helper engines, approximately 70 per cent more trains are moving now in a typical month than in pre-war months, with an average weight increase per train of about 30 per cent, reports B.S. Bauman, assistant superintendent.
The traffic, flowing in both directions, can pass only at five sidings, which have been lengthened so they can hold the long war trains. Recently, a freight train coming over the hill met other trains at each of the five sidings, yet made the entire distance in about two hours, so perfectly were the train movements interwoven by the dispatchers at their “keyboard.” Comparable time for this train before installation of the centralized traffic control system might have run as high as five hours, says J.L. Emrey, chief dispatcher here.
One Man Does Job
CTC involves electrical operation of signals and switches, which are wired to a central control board in San Luis Obispo, where one man supervises the trains in this 16.6 miles of mountain territory. In lights on a track chart before him, and on a moving graph on his desk, the positions and progress of trains is shown at all times, and he can govern train movements by means of trackside signals so that in many cases the trains will meet at sidings so exactly that neither train has to stop as they pass. Formerly the trains operated on written orders, switches were thrown by hand, and delays at sidings sometimes resulted.
San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum curator Brad LaRose is seeking photos and recollections of the interior of the now demolished 1894 depot.
The older depot was closed to the public in 1943 when the current Spanish-style depot opened. The old wood-frame depot was used as offices and storage, then demolished in 1971.
He is particularly interested in a lobby photo of the ticket cage. He wants to confirm that an item being offered to the collection can be identified as local.
Your can reach him at email@example.com.