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Railhead Ops: Back to Basics

Railhead Ops: Back to Basics

KENNETH Z. LEWANDOWSKI
U.S. Army Transportation Corps Regimental Safety Office
Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia

Rail remains a vital part of the deployment process. During past deployment operations, the Army relied on contractors to do the majority of the loading. But with the focus on large-scale combat operations, a unit’s Soldiers will be responsible for rail loading unit equipment.

Railhead operations are hazardous and labor intensive, so a detailed, deliberate risk assessment and training are required to achieve safe, successful results. Leaders and Soldiers at all levels share an equal responsibility to ensure safe operations. To conduct a successful, safe railhead operation, we need to get back to the basics. Rail safety policies, practices and procedures must be followed. Unfortunately, it seems on occasion that safety takes a back seat to getting the mission accomplished and the equipment loaded (or downloaded) as quickly as possible.

As the rail operations safety professionals for the Army, the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Rail Safety Office is tasked with conducting rail safety surveys during railhead operations at installations. During these surveys, we continually witness serious safety infractions and high-risk behaviors. Soldiers working the railhead have been observed putting themselves in unsafe situations, including:

  • Standing between moving equipment while ground guiding
  • Occupying the same railcar as the vehicle being loaded
  • Jumping off railcars and jumping from railcar to railcar
  • Sitting or lying under railcars
  • Climbing on the coupling gear between railcars
  • Walking backward while ground guiding
  • Not using the required personal protective equipment

These and other unsafe practices have resulted in an increased number of rail operations mishaps. Since 2010, the CASCOM Rail Safety Office has tracked all reported rail mishaps. Of 185 reported mishaps, 28 were directly related to unsafe actions by personnel during railhead operations. It’s a safe bet that many more mishaps go unreported.

To help make railhead operations safer, the Rail Safety Office continues to work diligently on tools to aid commanders. Army Regulation (AR) 385-10, The Army Safety Program, states, “Commanders will implement a railhead certification program for units assigned to rail loading operations, with assistance of local movement control or rail personnel.” What is the certification program? The CASCOM Rail Safety Office created an interactive multimedia instruction (IMI) for railhead safety. This course will assist in meeting the intent of AR 385-10.

The instruction is currently located on the Army Blackboard site at https://scoe.ellc.learn.army.mil. The online course provides guidance on the importance of safety during railhead operations and contains six modules: Introduction, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Safety On and Around Railcars, Railhead Site Inspection, Spanner Safety and Ground Guide Procedures. Upon successful completion of the training and examination, personnel are issued a certificate from the CASCOM Safety Office.

Training is one of the “basics” to which this article refers. Various installations offer additional training related to rail loading. Fort Riley offers a unit load team train-the-trainer course that can be found on the Army Training Requirements and Resource System (ATRRS) website. This two-day course is designed to provide the unit load team NCOICs/OICs train-the-trainer instruction on proper rail loading procedures for continental U.S. rail operations. The course teaches an overview of railhead operations and the basics of tying down vehicles and equipment on the railcars.

Additionally, the Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow Rail Operations Center offers a more in-depth, 14-day Railhead Operations Group Training Course (RHOG-TC). As a joint services school, the course focuses on the needs, requirements and standards of all services. For more information on the RHOG-TC, contact (760) 577-7781.

Completing a comprehensive risk assessment is another basic that must be accomplished. According to AR 385-10, “Commanders and other leaders who are planning or conducting these operations will use the information in Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 385-30 (Risk Management) to help them assess hazards and risks.” The Installation Transportation Office has the expertise and should review DD Form 2977, Deliberate Risk Assessment Worksheet, to ensure all potential hazards are identified and the proper controls are implemented. The completed and signed risk assessment must be briefed to everyone working on the railhead.

Unit leadership is by far the most important basic aspect when conducting railhead operations. The Railhead Operations section of the Installation Transportation Office depends on unit leaders to assist in ensuring the operation is being conducted as safely and efficiently as possible. Unit leadership must make an on-the-spot correction when an unsafe act has been identified. A best practice is to have a safety officer or safety NCO assigned to each loading spur to oversee the Soldiers working on their assigned spur.

Equipment deployment via rail transport is a proven, effective means of transporting the unit’s equipment from “fort to port” or to major training sites. But, as with all operations, there are inherent risks and hazards that come with movement by rail. The uploading and downloading of equipment onto railcars leaves little room for error. Before conducting railhead operations, ensure everyone involved receives the required training, a risk assessment is conducted and unit leadership knows and understands their role in the operation. Getting back to the basics will help ensure a successful and safe railhead operation.

For more information on rail safety, please contact the CASCOM Safety Office at (804) 765-7574 / 7467, DSN 312-7574 or email usarmy.gregg-adams.tradoc.mbx.rail-safety@army.mil.

  • 28 April 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 376
  • Comments: 0
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