Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do Not Hump

A friend of mine sent me this picture while stopped by a train. If you look to your right, you'll see a sign that says DO NOT HUMP on the freight car. Odd, right? Is this some sort of subversive, neo-viral Abstinence platform advertising? Perhaps it's a plea to rail-jumpers to keep them from doing the hibbity-dibbity? Maybe some people REALLY like trains and need a reminder that freight cars can't consent to being humped?

Actually, in train-speak, "humping" refers to a method used to sort freight cars. A track heads up a man-made hill called a "hump" and branches into numerous parallel tracks on its way down the other side. In order to attach cars to trains, a switch engine pushes a string of cars to the top of the hump, where the cars are uncoupled one at a time. Once it's determined which track the car needs to roll onto, a worker in a the control tower throws the appropriate levers to get the track switches lined up properly. The car is then pushed down the hump and onto the right track.

One of the advantages to humping is that it's a lot faster than using switch engines to drag each car up to it appropriate train. The disadvantage is that humping can be a rough on the freight cars and the freight they contain. Freight cars with especially delicate contents are marked DO NOT HUMP, which tells the yard crew to set that particular car aside for special handling.

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