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Railroad Industry Publication

Railroad Crossing Incidents

Focus on the Highway-Rail Intersection

Guidance on Traffic Control Devices At Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

Railroad Notes
Rail Event Recorders

Digital Recording Systems
RailView Camera System

Train Air Brake Systems

Locomotive Dynamic Brakes

Train Slack Action

 

 

 

 

 

 

Railroad Crossing Incidents

By Henry D. Pearson

Texas 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.

Railroads 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.

Federal 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.

Some 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.

Vegetation 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.

Train 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.

Prompt investigation of railroad crossing incidents result in the most reliable evidence and information.

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Focus on the Highway-Rail Intersection

By Carolyn Cook
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.

Motor 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.

There 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.

Funding 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.”

Data sources: Federal Railroad Commission (www.fra.dot.gov) and Association of American Railroads (www.aar.org).

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Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

The 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.

This 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.

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/safety/media/twgreport.htm


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Railroad Notes

By 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.

To 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 Rules.

These 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.

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Digital Recording Systems

by Danny Gilbert

Norfolk 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 locomotives equipped.

The “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.

Norfolk 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.


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Train Air Brake Systems

By Henry D. Pearson

To 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 brakes.

With 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.

To 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.

To 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.

The 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.

There 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.

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Locomotive Dynamic Brakes

By Diddy Pearson

Locomotives 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.

The 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.

Dynamic 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.

Temporarily 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.

Dynamic 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.

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Train Slack Action

Henry (Diddy) Pearson

Slack or “play” between rail cars is present in all cars. Slack is required to start high tonnage trains one car at a time.

On 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 each end.

A 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.

When 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.

Train 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.

When 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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