Behind the Scenes at Amtrak: How the Rail Giant Turns Trains Around

What's a "scrub and shove" anyway?

ByABC News
November 23, 2016, 4:36 AM

— -- With an estimated 750,000-plus passengers set to travel on its rails this week, Amtrak is preparing for a busy holiday season.

"Thanksgiving is our busiest time of the year," Amtrak Assistant Superintendent of Road Operations T.C. Williamson told ABC News.

Moving that many people means a lot of work behind the scenes. After passengers disembark, the train begins what rail workers call the "scrub and shove."

"You'll take a train out to wash it, that's the scrub process. And you'll turn it the opposite direction and shove back," Williamson explained.

First, the train chugs through a super-sized "car wash," then proceeds on to execute a three-point-turn through a triangular junction called a "wye," while crews clean and restock the train for the return trip. When it returns to the terminal, the engineer checks the breaks, and waits for new passengers to board. At a minimum, this process takes 30 to 45 minutes.

"They're back to back to back," Williamson said. "This time of year, this is not easy. It's a lot of coordination. ... But it's just what we do every day, so we get through it!"

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