Behind the Scenes
U.S. Army Transportation Corps Regimental Safety Office
Fort Lee, Virginia
The railroad has been operational since the 1860s and still proves to be a necessity today. The Army transports equipment from fort to port on railroad lines throughout the United States. This viable asset moves the Army, and there are many behind-the-scenes activities that enable the rail lines to stay operational.
Railroad track maintenance is the backbone that keeps the Army’s cargo moving. Without proper track inspection and maintenance, the entire railroad network would not be able to sustain the movement of the warfighters’ equipment and supplies. Not only are the tracks a major multiplier in rail transportation, but the personnel who perform the maintenance are a vital part of the railroad network. Therefore, their safety is paramount.
Personnel must use caution when working on or near railroad tracks and always expect train movement in any direction at any time. Using one of the following six methods of protection in accordance with 49 CFR Part 214, Railroad Workplace Safety, and Technical Manual 4-14.21, Rail Safety, can provide on-track safety.
Exclusive track occupancy
Exclusive track occupancy provides workers with on-track safety by establishing working limits on controlled tracks and giving personnel exclusive rights to occupy the track within those limits. This prevents trains from entering work zones.
Inaccessible track establishes working limits on non-controlled tracks by making the track physically inaccessible to trains and other on-track equipment at each possible point of entry. Non-controlled track consists of:
- Yard tracks
- Industrial leads
- Non-controlled sidings
- Main tracks within yard limits that are not governed by controlled signals
Individual train detection
Individual train detection (ITD) provides a lone worker with on-track safety when all the following conditions are met:
- The lone worker is trained and qualified on the General Code of Operating Rules and Army rail safety rules.
- Only routine inspection or minor repair is being performed. The lone worker may not occupy any position or engage in any activity that would interfere with the ability to detect an approaching train or equipment in either direction.
- The lone worker can visually detect approaching trains or equipment moving at maximum speed and can move to a place of safety at least 15 seconds before its arrival.
- The lone worker’s ability to hear and see approaching trains and equipment is not impaired by background noise, lights, inclement weather, passing trains or other physical conditions.
- The lone worker has completed a written statement of on-track safety. When using ITD, the lone worker will produce the completed statement of on-track safety upon request.
Train approach warning
Train approach warning (TAW) provides workers with on-track safety that can be used by personnel to perform routine inspections or other minor corrections without establishing working limits. TAW may also be used to provide warnings on adjacent tracks for large-scale maintenance work.
Red flag protection
Red flag protection is a piece of both exclusive track occupancy through a track bulletin Form B and inaccessible track, which were already discussed above. Under these methods, red flags, or yellow-red flags, are used to mark working limits.
Blue flag protection
Blue flag protection will be followed whenever there is a worker or workers (other than the train crew themselves) working on, about, around or under rail equipment for any length of time, primarily within the yard limits of a rail yard. Under blue flag protection, working limits (or lockout positions) will be identified at either end of the area where the work will be conducted. These lockout positions will then be marked with blue flags that can be clearly seen during the day. At night, blue lights should be displayed with the flags.
It’s understandable that onlookers are fascinated by the sight of large locomotives transporting military equipment. If they looked deeper into the operations, however, they would understand that the track is a major element in the railroad. More importantly, those behind the scenes are what keep the wheels rolling on those tracks, and their safety is paramount.