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Railroads, Trestles, Disasters
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Railroads, Trestles, Disasters

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If you are a disaster planner you need contact telephone numbers for the dispatchers of every railroad in your district. In some cases this may mean ten or fifteen telephone numbers. Whew! I hate to say that not many municipalities with railroads, embankments and trestles in their district have these numbers readily at hand. If a civilian notices that track is washed out, CALL THESE NUMBERS and flag the line.

In the case of a disaster trestles or rail embankments or even a tunnel may be the only means of evacuation. These places are VERY dangerous. On trestles over 200 foot there is generally (but not always) a safety platform every 100 foot.  Tunnels may have no clearance whatsoever! Civilians have no business on them without what is called a "track warrant", which is issued by the railroad dispatcher. They will do so if called and informed there is an emergency involving  life or death, and that you require exclusive use of a section of track for a specific period.  And the railroad grants this use through a "warrant" which is transmitted by radio to all trains on the line. This is called a "box four" request. Emergency vehicles should be equipped with both red flags and yellow-red flags. A yellow-red flag signals an engineer to slow to ten miles per hour and be prepared to find a red stop flag in two miles. The location can be described by providing the dispatcher with the milepost number or by providing the six digit DOT number that is on every grade crossing sign. Red-Yellow flags should be placed two miles out in either direction from a place where trackside firefighting is taking place.

On American railroads ANY PERSON waving any object or flag (red preferred, but not necessary) is a signal for the engineer to immediately bring the train to a halt to determine the reason for flagging..

If it is necessary for hose lines to cross a railroad, dig under the rail between a tie so you will not block the line. In cities, in years gone by, fire departments had ramps so trolley cars could climb over hose lines. Many cities have light-rail systems and these ramps are not available.

You cannot survive lying down between the rails if there is a train coming.. Clearance to railhead varies with the type of rail. It may be from five inches to eight inches, plus the height of the tie-plate. Although theoretically, you will have four inches of clearance above this, you may only have an inch or two of clearance.

You CANNOT tell if a train is coming by "listening to the rail". This is an urban myth. Trains will sneak up on you at high speed.

If you have to cross a track, cross at right angles quickly and never step on a rail or walk on a rail. Do not walk down a track, even on a lightly used line. Walking on a rail is a common cause of a fractured ankle as your foot slips off the top surface.

On some railroads block signals and cab signals signaling stop may be activated by using car jumper cables to cross both rails and IN ADDITION to cross the gap(s) on one side of the rail where there is an insulated joint.

Some emergency units carry track torpedoes, which explode when the wheels of the engine roll over them. These are rarely used anymore. They are called "guns". They catch the engineer's attention.

By day a red flag and by night a red lantern or flare is the signal for a train to stop. If a train stops on a hill it may not be able to start again unless the train is broken into two sections.
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I might add every one of these posts is prepared with great care and reflect personal experience in the difficulties in a disaster in treating and evacuating injured individuals.

Decades ago, I was a 911 responder and we had a cvall of a child struck by a train in the vicinity of a tunnel and a trestle. (actually pre-911)

The boy was bleeding to death, the child who called in disappeared (they had been trespassing), the location was unclear, and we had no way to contact the railroad, nor were we aware of the proper way to protect ourselves and the incoming members of the rescue team. Nor did we have the equipment to do so.

Because there were several railroads we could not identify the exact location.

A police officer was almost killed by an oncoming train.

This post was a result of an after action meeting with railroad officials.

In the case of the recent floods in Florida and Katrina, the need for those involved in disaster planning to consider the dangers and implications of civilians utilizing a railroad right-of-way should be obvious.

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