Freights: No Clearance Cards at West Roanoke or Bluefield?

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Sat Oct 9 10:33:40 EDT 2004

Here's a curious Special Instruction from Radford Division T.T. No. 7, 
effective 4/24/1938.

"104.  All trains must get a Clearance Card before leaving terminal stations, 
except Sylvatus, Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Fries Junction, Narrows, Suiter, 
Saltville, freight trains at Bluefield and West Roanoke." 

Strange indeed !

Requiring a train to get a Clearance Card before departure was the train 
dispatcher's way of "hanging on to" a train and not letting it get out on the main 
line without the dispatcher's knowledge.  If the dispatcher had no orders for 
the train, he would instruct the operator to "Clear Ex 2106 West with no 
orders," and the operator would issue a Clearance Card stating "I have no orders 
for your train."

The exceptions for the first seven locations (Sylvatus through Saltville) can 
be explained by the fact that only one train would be on the branch at a 
time, and that the "coming back" train would be operated by the same crew as the 
"going out" train.  So there was no issue about meeting opposing trains in 
these situations.

But how about trains entering the main line at West Roanoke and Bluefield?  
Why no Clearance Card?

When a westbound left West Roanoke, the first open telegraph office which 
handled train orders was at Elliston, almost twenty miles to the west.  When an 
eastbound left Bluefield, the first open telegraph office which handled train 
orders was at Blake, ten miles to the east.

And, at the time, there was no telegraph office (i.e. train order office) at 
the west end of Roanoke Yard or the east end of Bluefield Yard.

Granted, at the time this was all double track, automatic block territory 
with (what we would today call) "Rule 251" in effect, so the only real issue of 
"superiority" was that of following trains (e.g. a freight getting out ahead of 
a first class train running behind schedule, or ahead of a passenger extra 
running with a train order schedule, or ahead of a section of a first class 
train running in sections.)  But still, how about the matter of a last-minute slow 
order which may have cropped up?

How did the railroad manage the practice of "no clearance cards" for freight 
trains in these instances?  

There are probably no firm answers at this point in time, just musings about 
"verbal releases," etc.    Nonetheless, I offer up the topic...

-- abram burnett,
               of the trans-susquehannite diaspora
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