Pre-Op

by Jim on 2014/08/08

[Jimbaux is on that painkiller, painkiller, painkiller.]

Yes, I’m Alive, But Not Necessarily Well

Friday Frontin’

Hi.  This is the first post of new pictures on the blog since early May.  I hope that you enjoyed the 2004 Mexico series; I put plenty of effort into it, and I’m glad that it is all done!  Reliving that experience was meaningful for me, and I hope that I have conveyed that meaning in ways that will be beneficial to readers.

Why I Have Been Low

There is a major reason why I have kept a low profile and have not taken many pictures and not said or done very much for the last two months and hadn’t taken any pictures since July 16 until today, and I struggle now to explain it.  After having emergency back surgery in February, I thought that significant back problems were behind me for at least a few years.  That all changed on June 20; I have not been able to stand up straight since that day, and I have been off-and-on in plenty of pain and unable to do very much, including work and make much of a living.  As a result, this Wednesday, I will be having surgery for the second time this year.  Wednesday can’t come soon enough, but I now know, unlike last time, that I need to be really careful after surgery, more than I had previously realized.

Life has been depressing since June 20.  I have sat and cried a few times about what my life has become.  Back problems are really crapping on my hopes and dreams.  With the constant nerve pain, nerve pain that sometimes has me awakening to the sounds of my own screams, I have trouble being creative, particularly in an intense manner, like music as opposed to photography.  I hardly play guitar lately because it is hard to do so, and I don’t feel invigorated like I should (and often, at least before June 20, do) when I am playing (which is why I just don’t play now; I hope that changes after surgery.)  Playing music requires a certain intensity that photography does not, and this was not a problem when I was healthy but is a problem now; photography is not a “performing art.”  Pain-killers help with the pain, but they make me nauseated, making me unable to do much.  I have hardly even listened to music at all lately, which shows how frazzled I am!

The one major way that I have taken advantage of my current situation is that I have been doing an unusually large amount of reading, and, yes, much of it is of books.  It is all that I can really do.  This is a trend that actually started at the beginning of this year, and I am just continuing it; I have done probably more non-required non-work-related non-school-related reading in 2014 than in the previous five years combined!  Years ago, I might see a book at a bookstore or somewhere that I thought by the title and cover description, buy it, only to not ever read it.  Well, right now, I am reading War As I Knew It, which is Gen. George S. Patton’s accounts of World War II; I bought this book more than a decade ago and am only reading it now!  At least, given the subject matter, it isn’t outdated.  I have also as of late been reading plenty of old issues – especially from 1995 – of Trains magazine; this is really serving to patch some holes in my knowledge of how the railroad scene changed in the 1980s and early-mid-1990s.

Keeping my spirits up has been really difficult, especially as my situation is affecting me monetarily, not being able to work very much.  I hope that this changes soon.  Surgery can’t come quick enough.  One thing that has frustrated me is the medical system.  Apparently, even though my life is messed up because I can’t work or do much, the fact that I’m not on the verge of death and that I can walk means that I’m not an urgent enough matter for the hospital to have taken me weeks ago.  This has really pissed me off for plenty of reasons, but I don’t know what I can do about it.

Pictures, New Orleans Railroad Style

I happened to feel good today, better than I have felt in a long time.  I decided to, momentarily, get out and get some pictures, something that has been hard for me to do lately, even if I don’t care to do it as much as I once did (and it’s damned hot anyway.)  These, I am essentially certain, will be my last pictures until surgery.  I’ll “see” you – and the world, or at least the parts of my small slice of the world that I select to see – on the flipside.

AV-16 Appetizer At Alvar

The lighting was poor, and there weren’t any trains running, but then one showed up coming from Old Metairie, and I was able to get in position for a shot of it on the CSX at Alvar Street.

This was the AV-16 job, but I don’t know what train it was.  It definitely doesn’t look like the QLIWX, and I don’t know if the QLIGN is still running; so, this is likely the QLIHL.

Sorry-not-sorry about the possibly lame job of post-processing, but the train and all objects are in the shade, and we have a semi-bright cloud-filtered western afternoon sky in the background.  So, while I’m not certain this was the best that I could do, I doubt that I could do much better, and I’m not sure that I care anyway; so, you’ll just have to live with these results, but things will get better in this article.

Yes, I am standing atop my truck, which surprised even me, but I wouldn’t have been able to do this four weeks ago (I tried and failed) before I got a steroid injection in the buttocks.  What is interesting about this is that it is what I did not do here that is revealing about my back situation, a situation that is a bit different than previous back problems.  Note that this location is where I normally shoot off of the overpass under which I am standing for this picture.  Given the cloudy situation, shooting off of the overpass would have made much more sense here on this afternoon, but my latest iteration of back problems means that it hurts to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.  So, although I was able to climb the truck, climbing the overpass was not something that I was willing to do (but could have done had my life or the payment of a large sum of cash depended on it) today and have not been much able to do for awhile, and I think that the simple reason why climbing the truck was okay while climbing the overpass was not is that climbing the truck involved much less time standing straight up (or as close to straight up as I can stand); prior to June 20, I was walking usually about 1.5 miles per day.

I hoped then that this barely-good-enough-to-present set of pictures was not all that I would get on this day, and, fortunately, it wasn’t.

The Middle Belt and The Back Belt

These are my first pictures in Old Metairie since new developments in the Middle Belt proposal in which I have ‘participated’ by publicly offering an explanation of its merits that nobody else seems to be giving.  First, I need to explain some background information.

Lately, there has been plenty of talk in the local media about the Middle Belt proposal, the proposal of a new railroad corridor that would be created by building a short connecting track between two very lightly-used (almost entirely passenger) existing lines.  Many people in Old Metairie have for decades been trying to get the railroad – the beginning of the Norfolk Southern Railway’s “Back Belt” line that the major carriers use to interchange traffic – out of their community, despite the fact that the railroad has been there since before World War I, when that area was sparsely-populated, and despite the fact that they have long had the option of putting an underpass under the track just like places in New Orleans – including the nice area around Canal Boulevard – did more than a half-century ago; that their proposal to transfer the trains to other neighborhoods that essentially don’t have any freight trains now, all while they could put an underpass under the track and solve their automobile traffic problems, does not seem to bother their consciences (and not all Old Metairie people are in favor of the move, because some of them think that it is wrong), making them seem arrogant to much of the rest of the metropolitan area beyond the directly affected neighborhoods.  The proposal is finally gaining traction for the very important reason that, for the first time, the railroad companies are at least considering doing it because they realize the gains in operational efficiency that the proposed routing would bring.

Railroad operations are an esoteric topic in the first place, and many people do not understand how the proposed Middle Belt routing would be more efficient for the railroads.  This week, some advocates against the move (people in neighborhoods that would be affected) went on a New Orleans radio show.  Understandably, they did not understand how the Middle Belt – which is a longer route in terms of length – would be beneficial for the railroads compared to the current layout.  That they don’t understand it is okay.  However, they went beyond that; they went into a realm in which they had no businesses by claiming repeatedly and rather outrlightly that the idea that the railroads would benefit from the Middle Belt “made no sense” and that the idea was foolish, as if that was somehow for them to decide.  Let’s see, I’m pretty sure that a railroad company knows better what is best for a railroad company than anyone else.  No matter what the topic is, people should not make claims that they have no authority or understanding to make, and this is especially true if they go onto a radio show!  That’s just downright irresponsible and wrong, and people who do that should not be surprised when their baseless claims are refuted.

I have for a long time understood how the Middle Belt would improve efficiency in the New Orleans railroad gateway both from the current situation and far more than double-tracking in Old Metairie would improve efficiency, but, until this week, I had not been impelled to publicly explain that understanding.  Had the community activists (with whose concerns I sympathize, and for reasons that I should not need to explain) gone on the radio and said rather simply something to the effect of “we are told that the Middle Belt would improve railroad efficiency and reduce congestion [in ways that double-tracking through Old Metairie would not do], but even if that is true, we don’t think that that should be our problem, that we should have to suffer because of that,” then I probably would still have seen no reason to say anything publicly, since that statement would have been almost all opinion and would not have contained many misinformation.  That, however, is not what they did, not what they said; they spent a significant portion (probably more than half) of the show explaining how and, more importantly, that the Middle Belt could not possibly be a more efficient route, all while completely ignoring the issues of congestion at and past either end of the proposed rerouting; it’s as if they, despite going on the radio to talk about this and therefore implying to the world that they know of what they speak, never bothered to check to make sure that the area in question is not merely part of some long and singular mainline corridor.  So, basically, they went on the radio and propagated misinformation.

So, yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, I posted on the Jimbaux Facebook page a picture that illustrated the problem along with a very lengthy explanation of how and why the Middle Belt and a receiving yard at Old Jefferson would alleviate the slowly growing railroad congestion problems in the New Orleans gateway; the explanation with the picture is worth reading.

Later that afternoon, that explanation was posted to some discussion forum of people against the project.  Despite the fact that my lengthy explanation was completely devoid of opinion and that I in no way took a position one way or the other on whether the project should be done, and despite the fact that I was essentially doing these people a favor by explaining something to them that nobody else in-the-know had bothered to explain to them (because the people in-the-know have almost no incentive or need to publicly explain the railroading merits of the project), the responses to the explanation were mostly completely ignoring the explanation itself and were instead personal attacks!  Seriously?  That’s about like getting mad at your doctor and cursing him out when he informs you that you have cancer.  Yes, I called people out for making baseless claims that they were in no position to make – and the audacity and irresponsibility of going on a major radio show and doing that – but I do that for any topic (and have even done it on the other side of this debate, calling out Old Metairie people for claiming that the Back Belt is just a leftover World War II bypass and that it was meant to be temporary), and calling out people’s baseless claims does not constitute expressing an opinion or taking a position on the overall issue.  Nobody should make claims about any topic – especially consequential ones like this topic – without having all of the facts.  Period.

Galileo was persecuted for informing the world that the Earth revolves around the sun.  That people did not agree with him did not make his claim any less true; the Earth revolves around the sun whether you believe it or you don’t.  The famous contemporary astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say that that great thing about science is that it is true whether you believe it or not, and, really, that is true (whether I believe it or not.)  The unwillingness to believe and the reaction to the explanations that the Middle Belt would increase railroad efficiency (far greater than double-tracking Old Metairie would) in the New Orleans gateway and the ad hominem responses to the few of us who bother to explain it are examples of this, and it is therefore not surprising that railroad representatives are reluctant to publicly explain the project’s merits, and, if they end up putting up plenty of money toward its construction, they don’t really need to explain it, since that they are willing to pay for it all is quite compelling evidence that the Middle Belt will significantly improve railroad operations.

That many people would be opposed to the construction of the Middle Belt is understandable for many reasons, but when some of them rather outrightly deny, especially on airwaves with many listeners, that the Middle Belt would be beneficial for the railroads (which, again, is a claim that they are not in any position to make in the first place), they’re just sticking their heads in the sand.  They can claim that the Middle Belt would not improve railroad operations all they want, but that doesn’t change the reality that it would improve railroad operations (or, at the very least, that the railroads, who would know better than anyone, seem to think that it would improve operations); similarly, you could claim that the sun revolves around the Earth all you want, but it does not make it so.

My lengthy explanation was not so much me claiming that the Middle Belt would improve operations – since I am not the one who made the initial claims – as it was my explaining why the railroads apparently seem to think that it would and how, to the best of my knowledge, it would improve operations, and, in case you are wondering, much of it has been corroborated to me privately by local railroad sources.

How The Process Happens And How I Know What The Process Is

Next in this story of today’s trains and pictures is that of another train coming off of the Huey P. Long Bridge and the Back Belt (just like the previous train seen above), and the process of me learning that the train was coming is little different than that of any of the other eastbound-northbound Back Belt trains that you have seen on this site over the years, but since there have been more questions about how the Back Belt operates and how I know how it operates (the ad hominem responses to my explanation of how the Middle Belt would improve railroad operations included plenty of efforts to discredit me instead, of course, of refuting or even attempting to refute my actual claims), I will offer a few more details here.  This is an explanation of several paragraphs that those of you not in the New Orleans area will probably want to skip; so, enjoy the pictures!

While I was somewhere in the Franklin Avenue area near I-610, I heard over the radio NS Oliver Tower give UP train QLINSL permission to enter the Back Belt and go all the way “to seven dot six,” which is milepost 7.6, which is the end of the Back Belt near Peoples Avenue between Franklin Avenue and Almonaster Avenue.  Although I did not see it, I know (based on a lifetime of observation and of monitoring railroad radio communications) that the QLINSL had to have been sitting at the eastern foot of the Huey P. Long Bridge at Central Avenue.

So, now with this information, I had to quickly decide, based on the direction of movement of the train and how the lighting was at this time of day, where I was going to photograph the train.  Partly due to all the talk of Old Metairie railroad issues lately, I decided to shoot the train in Old Metairie, where I rarely photograph trains, and I knew that I would be able to get there in time.  Yes, where I was when I heard this news is further away from Old Metairie than the train is, and I do have a few stoplights to pass to get there, but I knew, based on experience, that I could beat the train to the location, as it would be moving slowly from a dead stop on the bridge and slowly moving through an interlocking junction.

When an eastbound train bound for the Back Belt arrives at Central Avenue – either at the foot of the Huey P. Long Bridge or at CN Mays Yard – the conductor of the train contacts two people, meaning that it has to get permission from two people before proceeding any further.  I already told you that, for this oncoming QLINSL, I heard Oliver Tower give him permission to enter the Back Belt and come all the way to 7.6.  So, that is one of the people, even though the NS dispatcher in Birmingham controls the signals on the Back Belt (and the NS mainline to Birmingham); Oliver Tower just relays this information to the train, its “landing instructions,” since the train crew can not yet see he signal lights on the Back Belt.  The other person from whom an eastbound train needs permission to roll off of the bridge or eastward off of the CN is the operator at East Bridge Junction (whether going to the Back Belt, New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, or the New Orleans Public Belt riverfront line), one of the last manned interlocking towers in the country.  For a train to enter the Back Belt from the west, both the NS has to be ready to take the train and then has to give it routing instructions before taking it onto NS tracks, and East Bridge Tower has to have nothing else coming through the junction (like from the NOPB or Amtrak or CN) before the train can come through the junction.  Eastbound trains descending the eastern slope of the bridge will radio to each NS Oliver Tower and to NOPB East Bridge Tower to say “we’re at the foot.”  Often, the NS yardmaster (in Oliver Tower) will hear the train radio to East Bridge Tower, and so when the train calls Oliver Tower, Oliver Tower often already knows that the train is there and often has instructions ready to give to the train.

Crews moving onto and off of the Back Belt know that they cannot proceed until they have verbal authorization given by both NS Oliver Tower and East Bridge Tower.  If only one of the two is ready to take the train, that’s too bad, and delays compound; this is a big reason for the push for the Middle Belt, as trains from the bridge would usually be able to get off of the bridge even if NS or CSX aren’t ready to take them (due to lack of open track ahead and the need to stay out of the way of Amtrak’s Crescent) or even if Amtrak’s City of New Orleans or Sunset Limited trains are approaching.  A similar process is in place for trains moving in the other direction; even though NS owns the track all the way through Old Metairie to Shrewsbury, and even though NS therefore alone decides what runs there and when it runs there, any westbound trains that leave I-10 or the end of double-track at the 17th Street Canal are told that they can leave “on authority of East Bridge Tower,” meaning that NS is telling the train that it is free by the NS to vacate its current position and go west, but only once East Bridge Tower also tells the train that it (East Bridge) is ready for it.  Reasons why westbound trains might have permission from NS but not permission from East Bridge to move past I-10 include the movements of various trains between the NOPB and the CN, between the NOPB and the bridge, and the two Amtrak trains that operate in the area; please understand that in all of those cases, as evidenced by the fact that NS has already given the train permission to go through Old Metairie even though it still can’t move because East Bridge can’t yet take it and that all of this obviously means that no eastbound train is coming onto the Back Belt, double-tracking through Old Metairie would not at all help!

Got all of that?

Because I had been too far away from the bridge when the QLINSL got permission to slide off and come through Old Metairie, I only heard Oliver Tower’s end of the conversation; so, I pieced together what was happening based on that transmission alone, and I don’t even remember if I found out right away that the train was the QLINSL.  I also don’t know how long the QLINSL was waiting at the foot of the bridge before it got permission to move, but it could not have been very long because I had heard Avondale give the train permission about an hour or so earlier to go up the bridge, meaning that it probably was not on the bridge for more than an hour and maybe even only a half-hour.  Considering that there was no train ahead of it at “the foot” (I had been there earlier myself for errands at Clearview and seen an empty track at “the foot”), that is not all that bad considering contemporary congestion issues here.

Anyway, I drove west on Metairie Road and was probably the only person in the column of cars headed toward the track who knew that a train was approaching from the west.  I got there and saw the headlight and got this shot.

That’s the view from Metairie Road, and that second track in the Middle of the picture is known as the “Passing Track”; occasionally, meets happen there, regular trains use it because the mainline is out of service, and short trains stop on the portion between LaBarre Road and Shrewsbury Road to wait for clear space ahead.

While the QLINSL was rolling through Old Metairie, the conductor radioed to Avondale that the crew needed a ride (a crew van to come and pick them up and take them home) at 7.6.  This is important to understand delay issues because, since the crew did not know how long its wait would be, it could not request a ride until it was allowed off the bridge, through the junction, and onto the Back Belt.  Since the ride was coming from Avondale, the train would beat it to 7.6.

Then, I climbed atop the truck, which took longer than it normally does, and got this shot, one of my favorite from this location.

I like the below shot too, and I think that it is partly due to the fact that I like how the train looks with the freshly-painted locomotive at the front.

The engineer waved at me, and not in a way that suggested that he was doing so only because he felt obligated to do so.  Thanks, man.

That third locomotive was one of those increasingly-rare spartan-cab GEs, and I swung around to get this shot that is significant for what it almost includes.

Yes, anyone who is familiar with the railroad history of that area knows that just below the frame of this picture, the street sign for the cross street (on which my truck is parked) is Frisco Avenue, named for the St.-Louis-San-Francisco Railway who originally jointly owned the New Orleans Terminal Company in its early years.

As the rear of the train approached, I left, passing about 40 automobiles stopped to wait for the train.

Back To The East

I figured that the only place to which I could beat the train was where it was to grind to a halt, at 7.6.  I was in no condition to climb the Elysian Fields overpass (or any overpass) even if I could have gotten there with plenty of time to spare.

I got to Terminal Junction (essentially, 7.6) in time to see the head end of the train pull around the Frenchmen Street curve.  Here he is with the head end passing under the Franklin Avenue overpass – and check out those steam-era smoke deflectors on the bridge!

The engineer had turned out the ditchlights when he passed a CSX-to-UP train moving in the other direction.

While this was happening, a yard job with nothing but empty auto-racks emerged from Oliver Yard and went deep down the Freight Lead (the track just to your left of the QLINSL in the above picture); when he shoved back, I got this shot of it.

I am noticing more auto-racks on NS lately.  Any information on this would be appreciated.

The conductor of the QLINSL alerted Oliver Tower that the train was at 7.6 and asked if he (the tower) had a crew on the way.  Oliver Tower replied that he had a crew “coming out in 15 minutes” and that the UP crew should wait until the NS crew arrived.  Since it was 18:40 and getting close to Amtrak time, I wondered how this would work, but I called Amtrak Julie and learned that the #19 was running nearly an hour late.

I was starting to be in more pain since I hadn’t taken my painkillers since about early afternoon, and I guess I was, too, tired from my unusual-for-lately activity.  So, although I was wondering if the NS crew would do its block swapping before the #19 arrived, and although I was wondering which mainline the #19 would take, since the aforementioned CSX-to-UP train was still at I-10, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stick around.  So, I decided to leave, as neither the NS crew nor the UP crew van showed up, and before I went home, I got one more somewhat-repetitive shot.

That is a slightly different take on a view that I have done many times, but one of my better views from this location was taken at night.

That’s all for pictures for now.  I think that they were okay.

I’ll Catch You On The Flip Side

I have plenty to say, but I am really exhausted, have said enough already, and am going to close this quickly.

Thanks

I will “see” all of you after Wednesday when my recovery – my next one – starts.  I appreciate all of the moral support.  I hope to be intense-but-humble when I return and recover.

Merci,

Jimbaux

{ 10 comments }

1 Tex Collins August 11, 2014 at 20:01

James,

Some people never let a fact get in the way of a good feeling. And, some people love being angry. (I dated a woman like that, once upon a time.)

Tex

2 Charlie Kilbourne August 12, 2014 at 06:37

I liked them all, James … big wish for rapid recovery.

Charlie

3 Lucy August 12, 2014 at 17:46

Hang in there…There is meaning in everything, even simple reading — You can always write about what you read! Prayers for a smooth, pain-free recovery. God bless and keep you as we await your next post. Lucy in Missouri

4 Ryan August 12, 2014 at 18:09

As always an interesting read.

Best of luck tomorrow, I’ll be pulling for a full recovery.

5 Robert August 12, 2014 at 19:37

Spinal pain is an awful thing. Be wary of painkillers. I almost got hooked on Vicodin a couple of years ago with back pain. You can get to the point you really WANT the pills. I know you have a different slant on spirituality but I will be praying for you tomorrow.

6 Raymond Rogers August 12, 2014 at 20:12

Jimbaux, I’m sorry to hear about your back problems. I have back problems to. . Ii hope that you get help with your back and it get’s alright. I’ve had a good back up until about three months ago. I didn’t realize my age 78 I carried two 800watt speakers into the club house to set up a guitar jam. Well I now have the back pain it comes and goes but it is always there. I hope you get well, Your pictures are great. Hang in there!!!!! “Fighterpilot”, Ray Rogers

7 Alan Champagne August 12, 2014 at 21:35

James, I had no idea about had back the back was. My heart goes out to you on a night I am thinking about Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. Life is precious. I have had back problems for 25 years, plenty of pain killing procedures, enough pain killing pills that they do nothing for me anymore. All I can tell you is that my back IS better now. You can get better. I have had times where I could not get out of bed for days, wondering why the heck did I play football, do this to myself. But those days are in the past. I will pray for you, and let you know, there are better times ahead. I need to see more of your pictures and your travels. They are inspiring. Alan

8 Moose August 12, 2014 at 21:52

Jimbaux – hope this surgery helps with your back and that you have a speedy recovery!

Moose

9 Howard Bunte August 13, 2014 at 17:23

James,
best wishes for speedy recovery from the surgery…and that it works…
echo the caution about painkillers… they DO work, but a person can become dependent…
on them…
Keep looking for the bright side… Oh, check out the old film, “Michael”…Travolta, et al… a GREAT film to watch while recovering from… anything…
Cheers… Howard ..out in CA

10 Tom Beckett August 14, 2014 at 02:14

Good luck with the surgery. I hope it brings some relief, though, as I have noted on other occasions, backs are funny: hard to diagnose, and often hard to fix. I say that as the owner of a 55 year old back that has a lot of snaps, crackles and pops. The painkillers help, but have some drawbacks, among other things, a tendency toward addiction, the nausea you are experiencing, and some can cause hallucinations, as my wife discovered to her distress when she was on Percocet following some botched dental work recently. The medical system is no help either. My wife just turned 65 and is now covered by Medicare. Good, right?? Not so fast. Her doctor dumped her because their group won’t take her insurance. She can change to the plan the accept, but then I lose mine, since I’m on her plan . I have a lot of sympathy for you. The system is stacked against us, which would be bad enough, but the people who are entrusted with patient care are more interested in the money.

Thanks for a good explanation of the rail situation there in NOL. I’m not totally familiar with operations there, but it made sense to me. The thing many people don’t understand is how railroads operate. The shortest distance between two points is not always the most efficient. Of course, you can’t bother people with facts, that just confuses them. As New York’s late senator used to say, you are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts.

Good luck and best wishes on a speedy recovery.

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