NEWS | Nov. 21, 2019

Railroad Maintenance: Keeping Tracks Safely on Track

The Army moves equipment from fort to port on railroad lines. But there are many behind-the-scene activities that enable rail lines to keep operating.

Railroad track maintenance is the backbone that keeps the Army’s cargo moving. Without proper track inspection and maintenance, the railroad network can’t move the warfighters’ equipment and supplies.

It's not just the tracks that are a major multiplier in rail transportation; the personnel who perform track maintenance are also a vital part of the railroad network.
 
Pictures of Army railroad workers working on rail tracks

Keeping track workers safe is essential. Workers must observe train movements and must use one of the six on-track safety methods of protection, IAW 49 CFR part 214 and TM 4-14.21, Rail Safety (Feb 15).

The following methods provide on-track safety:
  1.  Exclusive track occupancy
  2.  Inaccessible track
  3.  Individual train detection (ITD)
  4.  Train approach warning (TAW)
  5.  Red flag protection
  6.  Blue flag protection

Exclusive track occupancy provides workers with on-track safety by establishing working limits on controlled tracks, and giving the work gang exclusive rights to occupy the track within those working limits. This type of protection prevents trains from entering work zones.
 
A picture of exclusive track occupancy

Inaccessible track gives workers on-track safety by establishing 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 track within yard limits, which are not governed by controlled signals.
Individual train detection (ITD) gives a lone worker 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 performed. The lone worker may not occupy any position or engage in any activity that would interfere with the ability to detect the approach of a train or equipment in either direction.
  • The lone worker can visually detect the approach of 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.
    • Other physical conditions.
  • The lone worker has completed a written statement of on-track safety. When using ITD, the lone worker must produce the completed statement of on-track safety upon request.
Train approach warning (TAW) provides workers with on-track safety that can be used by work gangs to perform routine inspections or other minor corrections, without establishing working limits. TAW may also be used to provide warning on adjacent tracks for large scale maintenance work.

Red flag protection is a piece of the on-track safety methods, exclusive track occupancy through a track bulletin Form B, and inaccessible track as discussed. Under these methods, red flags or yellow-red flags, are used to mark working limits.
 
Picture of a red flag warning

Blue flag protection is used 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 done. Mark lockout positions with blue flags that can be clearly seen during the day. At night, display blue lights with the flags.
As the Army continues to move very large scale equipment by rail, everyone must be alert when working on or around railroad tracks.

It’s easy for onlookers to see locomotives moving military equipment, be fascinated by the sight, and forget the risk. Keep safety first and use caution when near railroad tracks. Always expect train movement on any track, in any direction and at any time!