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RailCamp 2018 Report

The Experiences of Logan Dahir
by Logan Dahir

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 enter high school. In freshman year, I thought about applying, but I put it off. Same with Sophomore year, as well as Junior year. At the halfway point of 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, as well as the fact that I like writing about myself and trains. So, after many days of thinking, I decided to write an essay, where I exceeded the maximum number of words (sorry). I then waited and waited till about April. In April, 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. It was my first time alone in the Northeast and I didn’t know what to expect in the Wilmington train station. The van ride from the station to the university was interesting. I happened to know one person in the van, so that was good enough for me. We arrived at the university a little while later, and over time more and more campers began to show up. We were given our hats, shirts, and binders by Tony. We were told to be back downstairs by 4pm. As 4pm rolled around, we all gathered downstairs for the first official group meeting of RailCamp 2018. We introduced ourselves at the meeting, then went to dinner at the cafeteria. After dinner, we had 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. I know for sure that all of us were tired, but very excited for Amtrak on the next day. We were told RailCamp would be the shortest week of our lives.

            My alarm rang at 6:15 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. The training center was a very neat place. It was also a very helpful experience for me since I could ask questions about hiring on with Amtrak and meeting my possible future instructors. The day started off with some classroom time with 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. 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, ACS-64 simulator, and Acela simulator. My personal favorite was the P42 since I see them often and I have friends that run those locomotives. We were also allowed to take a spin at the dispatcher simulator. I had never used a dispatch simulator before, so this was entirely new to me. The final activity of the day was the tour of a P42 locomotive, and a horn blowing opportunity. Obviously, that was the favorite of most as they have never been in the cab of a P42 before. At the end of the day, we headed back to the university and then did some railfanning at the Newark station.

P42 Simulator
P42 Simulator at Amtrak’s Wilmington Training Center.

Tuesday started at 6:15 with my alarm going off. We ate breakfast till 7:30 and then got in the vans to head to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. At the RRMPA, we were greeted by Troy, who had given us a presentation of the RRMPA on Sunday evening. The day at RRMPA was fun. We got to visit the cabs and insides of some exhibits like the AEM-7, GG1, 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. Lunch was good since it was from Isaac’s down the road. After lunch we worked on the project. Our group was assigned the Hesiler steam locomotive to do a report on by the end of the week. Lastly was an extensive, but fun scavenger hunt throughout the museum. The day came to an end with us returning to the university for dinner, and then some railfanning in Newark.

            Wednesday was the day that every Amtrak fan would remember. It stated off with a tour of the Wilmington shops. We were able to see an NPCU, an HHP-8, and an ACS-64 in the shop. After the shop tour, we got in the vans and headed over to the CNOC center in Wilmington. At CNOC, we were able to tour the CETC dispatch center, and the CNOC center. Which were both very impressive in their own way. After CNOC, we walked over to the 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” no. 642, the Veterans Unit. While on the train, we were split into tow groups. Each group had time to ride in the American View at one time, and the geometry cars at the other time. 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. 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. Once off the train, we were allowed to photograph the exterior of the train we were on. We then went up the escalator and into the station. Once in the station, we broke up into four groups for four special tours of Union Station. My first tour was of the history of Union Station. We looked at the historical rooms of the station and went behind the scenes of the Amtrak ticket offices and ticket counters. After that tour, we went off to K-Tower. K-Tower is the tower that directs all movements in and out of Union Station. Next, was the tour of the REA Building. There, we saw more offices that order train movements in and out of Union Station. One we were done in the REA Building, we went back into the station for the last tour. The last tour was a behind the scenes look at how Amtrak Police does their job. We met some Amtrak Police personnel, as well as a K-9 Officer. We were given a demonstration on how a K-9 Officer performs his job. After the four tours, we went to have dinner at UNO’s in Union Station. After dinner, we boarded an Acela Express train and went to Wilmington. Once in Wilmington, we saw the train leave and headed back in the vans to the university.

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

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

Thursday was the most hands-on day of RailCamp. At around 9:00 am, we arrived at the Strasburg Rail Road. We had a safety briefing and then broke into four groups. Once in the four groups, we began the day’s activities. My first activity was to operate the LO&S #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. The big project was 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 next shown how to couple equipment together and use proper railroad hand signals. The last group activity was the “Camp Project”. This year’s project 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 at their Casey Jones Restaurant for dinner. After dinner, we rode back to the university.

Logan Dahir rides in the cab of steam locomotive No. 89 at the Strasburg Rail Road.

Friday came all too fast, and it was the last day of RailCamp. It truly was the shortest week of our lives. That morning, we rode in the vans back to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. After putting the final touches on our research project, we presented it to the rest of the campers. We ate lunch after, and then headed over to the Strasburg Rail Road for our 2:00pm train ride to Paradise. All the RailCampers rode in a passenger car (Western Maryland #105) just for us and it was a ton of fun. Once the train ride was over, we walked down to the engine house. There, SRC had brought out SRC #89; a 2-6-0 steam locomotive for us to ride in. 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 got back into the vans and headed over to the Casey Jones Restaurant for dinner. After dinner, we rode back to the university and met upstairs. We read our journals aloud and told about our favorite things we did at RailCamp. 

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

Overall, RailCamp was an amazing experience. I am very thankful that the DC 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.