on the Highway-Rail Intersection
on Traffic Control Devices At Highway-Rail Grade Crossings
Rail Event Recorders
RailView Camera System
Air Brake Systems
Henry D. Pearson
has about 14,500 railroad crossings at grade, the highest number
in the nation. The kill/injury ratio for railroad crossing incidents
is 40 times greater than non-railroad incidents. The average freight
train weighs 6,000 tons. The average passenger car weighs 1.5 tons.
provide only a standard crossbuck sign at each of its public crossings.
Federal Funds are available at the state level for automatic grade
crossing warning devices. These devices are generally funded 90%
Federal Funds and 10% State, County or City Funds. The railroads
are responsible for maintaining the warning devices.
Regulation 49 CFR 234.223 and 234.225 require warning systems to
provide no less than 20 seconds warning time before the grade crossing
is occupied by a train. Each gate arm, if equipped, shall start
downward motion not less than 3 seconds after flashing lights begin
to operate and shall assume the horizontal position at least 5 seconds
before the arrival of any train at the crossing. Part 234 also mandates
that railroads report every crossing incident as well as crossing
signal system failure and malfunctions.
Courts have upheld that railroads have a general duty for the safety
of the motoring public at grade crossings. Because most drivers
seldom encounter a train, they tend to expect the absence of a train
not the presence of a train. Traffic control devices must alert
drivers to action when a train approaches.
of the issues a driver must contend with are: Sight-restricted crossing;
poor visibility of the train at night; lack of preview of crossing;
rough crossing and/or steep crossing approaches.
can be a problem for drivers at crossings. In Texas, 16 TAC §5.620
(c) requires railroads to control vegetation 250 feet from an unprotected
crossing. All railroads have their own vegetation control requirements.
crew actions prior to occupying the crossings are very important.
The whistle signal, two longs a short and a long, must start not
less than one quarter mile before reaching the crossing, if distance
permits. The whistle signal must be prolonged or repeated until
the engine occupies the crossing. The train speed when entering
the crossing is also important. A review of the train event recorder
can establish speed and often whistle activity. A review of the
trainmen’s personal records an help determine is the crew
has the proper respect for the rules.
investigation of railroad crossing incidents result in the most
reliable evidence and information.
on the Highway-Rail Intersection
Region 5 Assistant Grade Crossing Manager
Federal Railroad Administration
The highway-rail grade crossing is a unique location within our
transportation system. Two distinctly different transportation modes
–highway users and railroads - cross each other at U.S. highway-rail
intersections, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we are to make
our entire transportation system safer and more efficient, we must
focus increased attention on this crucial intersection. Here are
some things to think about.
vehicle traffic is at an all-time high with 2.778 trillion vehicle
miles traveled in 2001. Each day, an average of 328 million motor
vehicles cross railroad tracks at highway-rail grade crossings.
Some tracks are not heavily used, but for most rail corridors, train
traffic continues to trend upward. U.S. rail traffic reached 1.495
trillion ton-miles in 2001, operating across 121,013 miles of track.
As traffic density for both modes continues steadily increasing
with population and economic growth, the highway-rail intersection
will be a growing stress point in our transportation system. Communities
will face more blocked crossings as train traffic increases, more
train horns as communities insist on adding more crossings and unfortunately,
we will continue to have highway-rail collisions always with the
potential for hazardous train derailments.
are approximately 251,797 public and private at-grade highway-rail
crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
At-grade means that the two modes are not separated by an overpass
or underpass. Obviously, only one mode can occupy the highway-rail
intersection without incident. In 2001, there were 3,237 highway-rail
collisions (HRC) at U.S. highway-rail intersections resulting in
421 fatalities and 1,156 injuries. Large trucks were involved in
25 percent of these collisions and when a train collides with a
large truck, the chance of a train derailment is greatly increased.
It is encouraging that the HRC rate per million train miles declined
by more than six percent and is on target for a seven percent decrease
for the year 2002, but if we are to reduce casualties even further,
increased attention needs to be focused on highway-rail intersections.
That attention needs to come from all highway users (including privately
and publicly operated vehicles, pupil transportation, motorcycle,
bicycles, pedestrians etc.), community leaders and developers, highway
engineers, law enforcement, railroad officials and transportation
planners and policy makers.
for grade separations are limited under current financial support,
but additional resources are needed so additional grade separations
can reduce the number of at-grade crossings. Increased funding for
gates and lights is also needed in most states. Those resources
could come from the federal highway trust fund, but they could also
come from local communities and local developers. There is also
the need to restrict the total number of crossings and responsibility
for crossing consolidation must be shared by policy makers as well
as local community leaders. Restricting the growth of new crossings
will insure the adequacy of resources available for engineering
improvements such as gates and lights. Perhaps, even more importantly,
fewer crossings will allow railroads to continue unimpeded as the
most energy efficient form of transportation.
In the meantime, education will continue to play an important role
in making drivers aware of the hazards at the highway-rail intersection
and providing information on crossing tracks safely. Operation Lifesaver
programs (See www.oli.org) in every state are continuously working
to spread the message to “Always Expect a Train” and
to always “Look, Listen, and Live.”
sources: Federal Railroad Commission (www.fra.dot.gov) and Association
of American Railroads (www.aar.org).
on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings
Technical Working Group report has been posted on FHWA’s web
site. This collaborative effort included many participants who have
an interest in crossing safety. Representatives from railroads,
rail labor, railroad suppliers, academia, state departments of transportation,
county engineers, plus federal agencies including FRA, FHWA, FTA,
NHTSA, and NTSB worked on the report. The report’s purpose
is to provide useful guidelines to the traffic engineer who is trying
to determine what are the appropriate types of warning devices that
should be used at a grade crossing. The report covers everything
from passive crossings to four quadrant gates to closures.
was a major effort and represents the first comprehensive guidance
document on the selection of warning devices. Your help in spreading
the word on the posting of this report is appreciated. FRA also
plans on having a link for this report on its web site.
Henry D. Pearson
Effective May 5, 1995 The Federal Railroad Administration (49 CFR
229.135) mandated every train traveling faster than 30 miles per
hour have an in-service event recorder in the lead locomotive. The
event recorder must record data on train speed, direction of movement,
distance, throttle position, amps, brake application (including
train brake, independent brake and dynamic brake), over the most
recent 48 hours of operation.
reconstruct accidents, recorded information is printed using a play
back unit. This information can be printed in several formats depending
on amount of detail required. The events can be printed on a strip
chart or in a tabular format. This information can be used to analyze
the circumstances of accidents and monitor adherence to Operating
event strip charts and/or tabular print outs, together with Train
Orders and applicable Time Table allow a trained technician to reconstruct
the engineer’s actions and train handling before, during and
after a train accident.
Southern began installation of RailView cameras on its locomotives
in 1999. Today, there are over 200 locomotives equipped with the
digital cameras. By the end of 2003 there will be over 300 locomotives
equipped with the RailView System with eventual plans to have all
“RailView” system is mounted in a locomotive cab. It
records track conditions, train speed, weather, visibility, signal
operations, horn sounds, a train’s direction of travel, brake
applications and activities on or near the train tracks.
The system enhances safety of operations along rights of way and
at highway-rail grade crossings. Information furnished by RailView
also has been useful in deterring potential claims cost.
Additional plans for video from this system will be to enhance our
Operation Lifesaver efforts by using these videos for educational
use, in Public Service Announcements, and in our efforts to educate
city, state, and county officials on what actions drivers will take
at highway/rail intersections, etc.
Southern Corporation is a Virginia-based holding company with headquarters
in Norfolk. It owns a major freight railroad, Norfolk Southern Railway
Company, which operates approximately 21,800 route miles in 22 states,
the District of Columbia and the province of Ontario.
Air Brake Systems
Henry D. Pearson
fully understand train air brakes it is necessary to understand
the fundamentals of the system. In the early 1870’s George
Westinghouse invented the air brake system that is used today. Mr.
Westinghouse installed a steam driven air compressor and connected
it to a large reservoir. He connected the reservoir to a valve located
at the Engineer’s control stand. He connected all the cars
in a train using a system of brake pipes and air hoses. Mr. Westinghouse
placed a separate air reservoir on each auxiliary to the engine
reservoir. He designed a valve for each car which would control
charging of the reservoir, applying the brakes and releasing the
the train air brake system fully charged, when the brake pipe pressure
is reduced the brake valve will allow more reservoir air to flow
to the brake cylinder applying the brakes. Further reduction in
the brake pipe pressure will apply more brake cylinder pressure.
release the brakes, brake pipe pressure must be increased. When
brake pipe pressure becomes greater than the auxiliary reservoir
pressure the brakes will release. The brakes cannot be released
in steps or graduations.
get an emergency stop a second reservoir, an “emergency reservoir”
was added to each car. When an emergency stop is required both reservoirs
are equalized with the brake cylinder providing a 20% increase in
brake cylinder pressure.
train braking system is reverse of what one would normally expect.
With the train air brake system the Engineer reduces the brake pipe
pressure to apply the brakes and increases the brake pipe pressure
to release the brakes.
have been changes in the brake valve design but the fundamentals
of train air brakes remain the same. Although space prohibits a
complete explanation of the system, a short one on one discussion
can expand your basic knowledge of train braking systems.
are mobile electric generators; the diesel engine turns a turbine
to generate electricity. Each axle of the locomotive has a traction
motor attached. Electric power is distributed to the traction motors
that turn the wheels.
engineer has three types of braking systems available: 1) the automotive
system that applies air brakes on all cars in the train; 2) the
independent system that only apples the air brakes on the locomotives
in the consist and 3) a dynamic brake system that concentrates the
retarding forces to the head end of the train. Dynamic braking is
preferred on Class 1 railroads. There are limits to the amount of
dynamic braking effort that can be used. Dynamic braking reduces
wear on wheels and shoes. Most railroads also limit the number of
traction motors used in dynamic braking. The engineer must use care
in applying dynamic brakes to prevent slack action resulting in
injury to employees or damage to the train.
braking takes advantage of the fact that an electrical motor and
a generator are essentially the same with different electrical connections.
In a motor, electricity creates magnetic fields between the stationary
and rotating windings that pull the rotating shaft, which pushes
against the magnetic field creating electricity.
converting traction motors into generators provides braking effort.
The electricity generated is passed to dynamic brake grids, which
are the same elements found in a kitchen toaster. These grids heat
up as electricity flows through them. Fans blow the heat into the
atmosphere. With locomotives in dynamic braking a blue plume may
be seen flashing out the top of the locomotives and heat the moan
of the fans – a spectacular sight on a dark winter night.
brakes are a significant maintenance item. Grids burn out and troubleshooting
requires skilled electricians. It is not uncommon for dynamic brakes
to work at a reduced capacity. Often an engineer won’t know
that until he or she tries them out.
or “play” between rail cars is present in all cars.
Slack is required to start high tonnage trains one car at a time.
mechanically sound cars, mechanical free motion or free slack between
adjoining couplers can be one inch. Couplers are attached to draft
gears that absorb the shock or impact. Draft gear slack is called
spring slack. Spring slack on a conventional box car is about five
inches. Many intermodal (piggyback) cars have shock control devises
or sliding center sills that can have fifteen inches of slack in
100 car train of conventional cars in good mechanical condition
will have 50 feet of slack. Intermodal trains and trains with cars
in poor mechanical condition can have much more slack.
the train brakes are applied the brake pipe reduction is transmitted
pneumatically from front to rear of the train. There is a difference
in the response and brake cylinder pressure build up between the
head and rear of the train. Changing from a pulling mode to a braking
mode, the slack runs in. Severe slack action is the cause of serious
damage and personal injuries to train crew members.
make up is important to controlling slack. Trains should be made
up with heavy cars closest to the locomotives. Forces transmitted
through the train vary in magnitude from the car closest to the
locomotive to the car farthest from the locomotives.
Many engineers are skilled at controlling slack. The best engineer
will have trouble controlling slack in an improperly made up train
or a train with mechanical problems.
a train crew member is injured by slack action some things to look
at are train make up, speed, brake application, track profile and
the mechanical condition of the train and locomotives. The control
of slack and proper train handling is necessary for safe train operation.
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