• Questions for the guys here who work on train crews...

  • For topics on Class I and II passenger and freight operations more general in nature and not specifically related to a specific railroad with its own forum.
For topics on Class I and II passenger and freight operations more general in nature and not specifically related to a specific railroad with its own forum.

Moderator: Jeff Smith

  by up8677
Questions from curious railfan...what do you guys think when you see a railfan who is minding his P's and Q's? e.g. not doing dumb stuff like walking in the ROW or being stupidly close the the tracks. I've gotten many honks, bells, and friendly waves before, but I also hear about people hearing themselves reported to the dispatcher over the scanner. I don't personally own a scanner (I probably should, but I don't), so I dunno if I've ever been reported. But I've always just wondered if people like me get laughed at or what... :)

For my own comfort zone, I have pretty good corrected eyesight, so I go by if I can read the steel mill's marks on the rail. If I can read them, I'm too close (even if I am standing on public right of way) and I move further off. With that in mind, at what point do you guys start to get nervous when you see someone trackside? My favorite spot is on what I believe to be a public easement; I'm guessing somewhere between 50-60 feet (could be a little more; for obvious reasons I haven't measured) off the center of the track.

I'm hoping to gather some data points to ensure that my railfanning is always as safe as possible.

Thanks!! :)
  by 10more years
My personal point of view: ANYBODY within 50 foot of a moving train, especially a train moving at above 40 mph or on a main line, is going to get my attention and make me a little nervous. I know that sounds like me being a little paronoid, but trains do "break". Things do come off trains. Bands break. Any number of things can go wrong. People are always putting junk on the track and then standing 15-20 foot away; and those small items are like missiles under the right circumstances.
Folks tend to think that things won't go wrong. I'm amazed that rail fans are not injured more often.
A little common sense goes a long way.
  by up8677
Your post reminds me of that fool on youtube who filmed himself putting a laptop on the rail head and STANDING RIGHT THERE while the train ran over it. I suppose that engineer nearly had a heart attack. :(

Thanks for your input...I may try to find a new spot. :)
  by rch
It's usually pretty obvious the difference between a railfan and someone who falls under the category of "suspicious person", which is how they will be reported to the dispatcher when I see them. Generally if you are off the railroad property - and your estimate of 50 feet from the center of the rails is a good starting point - you're not endangering yourself or my crew so I live and let live. As mentioned above, watch out for unsecured loads, unsecured plug doors, banding popped off pipe and steel shapes loads, dunnage sticking out from cars and any other dragging equipment. A couple weeks ago, we had a car break in half (it was a bad order with structural damage, so it couldn't be blamed on train handling). You never know what kind of junk is coming down the rails toward you, so keep a safe distance away.
  by up8677
Thanks again for the input. As far as places to stand...so 50 feet is a good start. I'm going to take a closer look at the situation next time I'm out there.

What about a scanner? It is something I've never really considered buying because I'm not a HAM. I suppose it could enhance safety though since you can (theoretically at least) hear the talking detectors. So I know if there is a possibility that a dragging defect might be headed my way.

Terminology question...."dunnage"?
  by rch
I think a scanner could help you out. Once you know the location of the talking detectors, you can tell when a train is approaching. You might also be able to hear if you are reported. I've never used a scanner, so I don't know how they work, but if it picks up the channel used on the line you're fanning, it will be a useful tool.

Dunnage is anything that supports the load that counts against the total weight of the load but is not part of the load. For example, when shipping pipe or structural steel shapes, there is often a layer of wooden boards underneath the load. These boards can come loose and stick out beyond the normal clearance limits of the car. When the car is unloaded, often these boards are left on the deck unsecured. I passed by one such car last night when I knocked the brakes off the train I was picking up at the yard. I was able to get the board secured between two boards nailed to the deck. If I hadn't been able to secure it, I would have tossed it between the rails underneath the car.
  by up8677
Thank you for the explanation. :) I'll probably be looking at a scanner in a few months...like so many other things there are about a million different choices. :D
  by kevin.brackney
Yes, common sense goes a long way. After awhile you learn to "read" people and develop a sense of what they are about. On more than one occasion fans have chased my train for several miles, racing ahead along the adjacent highway to beat us to the next crossing; jumping from their vehicle to line up the next shot of the train. Even though they may have been on public property, at this point they have become a distraction; and I then pondered whether they might cause a highway accident that I would have to witness. When it gets out of hand, we get law enforcement involved. Don't forget, most of us have company issued cell phones, and we are allowed to use them in such a situation in accordance with the Rules.

Over the top is when a foamer appears from around a cut of cars in the middle of the Yard 5 bowl at Proviso, camera in hand; crosses multiple tracks, and continues prancing through the yard. And no PPE.
  by toolmaker
LOL., what kind of "PPE" would stop a railcar from crushing you?
  by Engineer Spike
When I am out, or even watching a train by at work, I look for high ground. If something derails, it is less likely to climb the bank.

People don't know the many things which CAN go wrong. One day I was at BRC Clearing Yard. A inbound SOO Line train had a lumber car pick a switch. The lumber flew around like someone had dropped a box of tooth picks.

The farther you stay clear, the safer.
  by toolmaker
Oh, when I saw "PPE" I was thinking steel toe boots, hard hat and ear plugs. I use the high ground too and I don't crowd grade crossings. It's safer to observe at a distance.
  by Shirehorse
You can generally tell if someone is up to no good trackside...

We don't normally report railfans unless they're hanging around our equipment/Defect detectors/signal boxes/bridges/etc. Most of them in our area are well behaved, and they don't serve as too much of a distraction. A guy with a camera taking pictures of a train is a heck of a lot different than joe blow standing next to an open signal bungalow at 2am.

With the frequency of locomotive mounted cameras in our units these days, more and more crews report stuff for CYA purposes than anything else. Railroaders work in an environment where passing the buck is the name of the game, so naturally, this is going to occur. I think all of the major class I railroads have reporting suspicious circumstances and trespassers in their operating rules, but I could be wrong. I know CSX does.

TLDR version: If you don't look suspicious, you probably won't get reported. If you look like a trainmaster, you probably will get reported by default.