The Three Rs - Part Two

Last time I used my travels in Bolivia to illustrate the importance of the first two of the Three Rs (Reading and Writing).  That same trip I came to realize the importance of the third R – (a)rithmetic. 

Uyuni is in the high desert.  I had seven heavy blankets on my bed yet I was still cold. I got up feeling as if I had been sleeping in a printing press.

The overnight train from Oruro, the Warra Warra, pausing for a crew change at Uyuni on its way south to the border with Argentina at Villazon.  Uyuni is in the desert, it is very cold at night in the thin air of the high altiplano.  This is the same locomotive that we had waited for at oruor the previous day.

We left Uyuni after the arrival of the passenger train for an inspection of the line over Condor Summit to Potosi.  There was some rail laying in progress and the new rails had been set out alongside the track.  As we approached a crossing we hit one of these rails lying across the track.  It was close to a road crossing and it seems the rail had been hit by a passing vehicle which threw it across the track.  The five of us managed to lift up one end of the rail and move it out of the way – and I was the only one who had safety boots and leather gloves.

We continued on our way and climbed to Condor Summit.  It is a lonely, cold, unfriendly place and I was having difficulty with the altitude.  Nevertheless, pictures were in order and I even took a shot of a lone switch stand – the highest in the world.

The entire Bolivian Railway Safety Inspectorate at Condor Summit, Bolivia. At that time this was the highest railway summit in the world.  The recently opened line in Tibet now runs considerably higher than this.

Running downhill now, we rounded a curve and came upon a track gang at work.  There were no flags or torpedoes to warn us.  After a stop to chat, we carried on and I noticed that the line had been properly protected with a red flag in the other direction.  The next train was expected from that direction. The budget was tight and the gang had been given only one red flag.  Of course it was perfectly safe as everyone knew where the train was!

What has this to do with the third R?  Well, employees should be able to calculate the number of flags they need.  They must also be able to count to ensure they have what they need!

Ottawa Central Railway, Spareboard, May 2008.

Home   Articles