A means had to be found to have trains run from section (town) to section (town) safely ensuring they were the only train on that single line. The consequences of not having such a safety system were cataclysmic head on collisions. The solution was an automatic staff (a metal token) operation that could be exchanged as a train sped through a station.
The staff was placed in a sling, the engine had a drop down catcher which let go of the previous staff sling and collected the new one. Rarely it did not work. When the staff is lost due to the system failing (when a sling and the staff is hit at 100 k it could fly anywhere and terribly difficult to locate, sometimes they were found in wagons three or four lines across in the freight yard), the crew was allotted 10 minutes for the search, whereupon a Proceed Order is to be issued to proceed.
On an interstate express one night the train came through Georogerie – two section staff change-over stations from Albury running south. The automatic staff exchange picked up the sling – but there was no staff in the sling. It had somehow slipped out of the slot which should have been strapped down well and truly.
The crew had no alternative but to stop the train and reverse. The Assistant Station Master (ASM) asked what the matter was. The driver explained and the ASM, knowing the consequences, shouted in alarm, "I put it out, I put it out, I put it out!" They calmed the ASM down and decided to look for the staff, but it could not be found.
So the Proceed Order operation was put into effect, and on these Orders, everything had to be exact. An incorrect Proceed Order on single line working is an absolute "no no"!
The Proceed Order
This first Proceed Order couldn't be accepted as it couldn't be read. The ASM was so panicky, his scribble was illegible. So the Process Order had to start all over again. The second one wasn't acceptable either, as the ASM couldn't prove he was who he claimed to be as stated on the Proceed Order. The ASM had no driver's license nor any other identification. So the driver had to go to the Station Master's office and check the sign-on book to assess that the signature and name as to whether it was the same as on the Proceed Order.
When the driver got back to the engine, he still wouldn't budge his train. The Proceed Order was now out of date, as it had just passed midnight. A train couldn't proceed into a single line section with a Proceed Order with an incorrect date. The whole process had to be done again, and another Proceed Order issued – this time with the correct date. A Proceed Order could not even have a correction on it.
The train arrived in Albury two hours late. When the bung (departmental letter) arrived the driver answered, saying the delay was caused by incompetent Traffic employees. The driver heard nothing more about it.
A poignant message
Christian doctrine is like this, for if the teaching given misleads and does not purport that Salvation is a gift from God, not something you earn, then it's like that incorrect Proceed Order - it is untrustworthy, it cannot be relied upon.
One takes one's life (your train) on its journey. There is either assurance, or you're in serious trouble.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html