Question related to train speed, passenger safety and control...

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Joined
Jan 25, 2022
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Canada
Hi I am trying to understand correct terminology, how speed works, control of train speed, and passenger safety based on May 2001 CSX 8888 incident where a train was uncontrolled (yes i know it didn't have passengers) but I'm curious how that might relate to Amtrak trains. Forgive my total newbie mind here. Hoping you veterans can chime in. Thank you kindly.

1. What does the driver do to speed up a train? (push a lever, press a button, apply his foot to some pedal and whats the correct terminology?)

2. Is there a button or lever that must be engaged to apply brakes and stop the locomotive and cars connected?

3. Is the driver the ONLY one who can stop the train or are 2 others ways ( i.e 1. the system will recognize after 10,15,30mins that the driver hasn't pushed a button, pressed on something so it concludes hes not there and automatically brakes? 2. There is a train traffic control command post who can remotely stop it from their computer?)

4. If a locomotive couldn't be stopped. For safety could the driver DISCONNECT the passenger cars from the locomotive? And is it as simple as pulling a lever between the cars and locomotive?

5. What do train drivers prefer to be called "train driver, engine driver, enginerman or locomotive driver, or engineer? and are there more than one driver on an amtrak at any given time (ie. 2 are always present just in case one has a heart attack?)
 

VentureForth

Engineer
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I'm not good at this for as long as I've been a member here, but here goes. Believe me, anything wrong I post will be promptly corrected. :)

1. The throttle is controlled by a lever. There are 'notches' that the throttle sets in to control the max speed.

2. The same throttle lever used to accelerate can be brought back, past the 'neutral' setting to a braking setting. Some trains have separate levers and there is also a separate lever for pneumatic braking and engine braking.

3. The engineer must keep his hand on the lever in some cases, or keep his foot on what's called a "dead man's switch". If he lets go of the lever, it returns to neutral; if he becomes incapacitated, he won't be able to keep his foot on the foot switch and that will stop acceleration. I am not sure if it just stops acceleration or if it actively applies brakes, and if so if it is a gradual application or something equal to an emergency braking condition.

4. I don't think so. This is very unlikely. Like a truck, Westinghouse brakes work on the principle that air pressure RELIEVES the brakes. If there is a leak or release of that pressure, the brakes are APPLIED.

5. Locomotive Engineer. There can be one or two in the cab. Always two on a freight loco - one conductor and one engineer. On Amtrak, the passenger conductor can assume the responsibilities that a freight conductor has. I think there should be an operational conductor as well as a passenger conductor on Amtrak. Others disagree. One of the functions of the conductor is to be a second set of eyes on signals. A conductor in the train just can't see them. This was an issue on the Metrolink Chatsworth crash in California quite some time ago (not the biggest issue, but a contributing factor).

Those are my quick-guide answers. I'm sure there are many here who can elaborate and go into much more depth on any answer you seek.
 

joelkfla

Conductor
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Isn't it also possible for ATC or PTC to stop a train if a red signal is passed or speed limit exceeded, or in the case of PTC, other situations like running too close to the train ahead or an intrusion alarm at a grade crossing?
 

George

GAT
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Re: ATC. PTC, etc. I often encounter acronyms on posts that aren’t readily recognizable or capable of interpretation with my limited brain power 😊. This is especially true on some of the more technically oriented posts. So I went searching on AU (hello acronym!) and found this very useful post, now almost six years old. It is buried in the AMTRAK FAQs and FIRST TIME RIDER INFO section which in turn is in the TRAVEL RESOURCES & FIRST TIMER INFO quite aways down the home page.

Here it is: Commonly Used Abbreviations and Terms

The last A-Z Post is very helpful. Since this has relevance to all posts in this forum that contain acronyms, I’m wondering if it might better serve us if it were pinned at the top of the home page. It might also make it easier to be kept updated.

Just a thought to burden our over-worked and under-paid volunteer administrators;) And please forgive me if I am misunderstanding how this works.
 
Joined
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Portsmouth, VA
I'm not good at this for as long as I've been a member here, but here goes. Believe me, anything wrong I post will be promptly corrected. :)

1. The throttle is controlled by a lever. There are 'notches' that the throttle sets in to control the max speed.

2. The same throttle lever used to accelerate can be brought back, past the 'neutral' setting to a braking setting. Some trains have separate levers and there is also a separate lever for pneumatic braking and engine braking.

3. The engineer must keep his hand on the lever in some cases, or keep his foot on what's called a "dead man's switch". If he lets go of the lever, it returns to neutral; if he becomes incapacitated, he won't be able to keep his foot on the foot switch and that will stop acceleration. I am not sure if it just stops acceleration or if it actively applies brakes, and if so if it is a gradual application or something equal to an emergency braking condition.

4. I don't think so. This is very unlikely. Like a truck, Westinghouse brakes work on the principle that air pressure RELIEVES the brakes. If there is a leak or release of that pressure, the brakes are APPLIED.

5. Locomotive Engineer. There can be one or two in the cab. Always two on a freight loco - one conductor and one engineer. On Amtrak, the passenger conductor can assume the responsibilities that a freight conductor has. I think there should be an operational conductor as well as a passenger conductor on Amtrak. Others disagree. One of the functions of the conductor is to be a second set of eyes on signals. A conductor in the train just can't see them. This was an issue on the Metrolink Chatsworth crash in California quite some time ago (not the biggest issue, but a contributing factor).

Those are my quick-guide answers. I'm sure there are many here who can elaborate and go into much more depth on any answer you seek.
As far as conductors' roles on Amtrak go, I think that a (senior) conductor should assist the engineer with signals, train operation, etc., while an assistant conductor should handle passenger interactions, conduct, rules and such. Granted, an Amtrak conductor radios back & forth with the engineer, but he/she cannot easily see the signals while in one of the passenger cars.
 

tgstubbs1

OBS Chief
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Mar 3, 2020
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I think they should cross train several employees. Then they could swap places during the trip and possibly avoid the dreaded "crew expiration" after 10 hours which stops the train.
 

Bob Dylan

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I think they should cross train several employees. Then they could swap places during the trip and possibly avoid the dreaded "crew expiration" after 10 hours which stops the train.
T& E Employees ( Conductor/Asst Conductor and Engineers ) are the RR Staff that are limited on Hours under the Law.

OBS ( On Board Staff) are not covered, they can work as Long as required, but are covered by Overtime under their Contract for their Craft.
 

caravanman

Engineer
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Nottingham, England.
The train systems are designed so that if there is a failure, it fails safely, as much as possible.
The train driver (UK terminology) the engineer (US terminology) the pilot (Indian terminology!) will have to depress a handle, keep his foot on a pressure switch, etc, or the brakes will apply.
The brakes are fed by continuous pipes running from the engine to the rear coach. The conductor can stop the train from the rear most coach, by opening the rear door and letting air out from the valve there.
Most older trains had a handle or cord in each carriage which acted directly on the air pipes to stop the train also in emergency.
The locomotive will have its own air brake that acts only on the loco, this is used when the loco is moving around solo, without being attached to a train.

Accidental seperation of the loco from the train, or the couplings breaking anywhere between coaches or wagons will let air out of the pipes and halt the train.
I imagine any "fault" type brake application would be a full emergency halt.
(Trains at speed will always take a fair distance to stop, of course...)

I doubt if a signal can be sent remotly from elsewhere off the train to apply the brakes. There may be some local driverless trains with that option, but not Amtrak.
 
Joined
Jan 25, 2022
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Canada
I'm not good at this for as long as I've been a member here, but here goes. Believe me, anything wrong I post will be promptly corrected. :)

1. The throttle is controlled by a lever. There are 'notches' that the throttle sets in to control the max speed.

2. The same throttle lever used to accelerate can be brought back, past the 'neutral' setting to a braking setting. Some trains have separate levers and there is also a separate lever for pneumatic braking and engine braking.

3. The engineer must keep his hand on the lever in some cases, or keep his foot on what's called a "dead man's switch". If he lets go of the lever, it returns to neutral; if he becomes incapacitated, he won't be able to keep his foot on the foot switch and that will stop acceleration. I am not sure if it just stops acceleration or if it actively applies brakes, and if so if it is a gradual application or something equal to an emergency braking condition.

4. I don't think so. This is very unlikely. Like a truck, Westinghouse brakes work on the principle that air pressure RELIEVES the brakes. If there is a leak or release of that pressure, the brakes are APPLIED.

5. Locomotive Engineer. There can be one or two in the cab. Always two on a freight loco - one conductor and one engineer. On Amtrak, the passenger conductor can assume the responsibilities that a freight conductor has. I think there should be an operational conductor as well as a passenger conductor on Amtrak. Others disagree. One of the functions of the conductor is to be a second set of eyes on signals. A conductor in the train just can't see them. This was an issue on the Metrolink Chatsworth crash in California quite some time ago (not the biggest issue, but a contributing factor).

Those are my quick-guide answers. I'm sure there are many here who can elaborate and go into much more depth on any answer you seek.
Thank you kindly
 
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T& E Employees ( Conductor/Asst Conductor and Engineers ) are the RR Staff that are limited on Hours under the Law.

OBS ( On Board Staff) are not covered, they can work as Long as required, but are covered by Overtime under their Contract for their Craft.
If the OBS were crossed trained to be T&E (which might be like cross-training a doctor to be a lawyer), wouldn't the OBS be covered under the Hours of Service limits if they started doing T&E work?

Anyway, would you want a sleeping car attendant who has been up all night switch in the morning and start driving the train?
 

zephyr17

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Modern US locomotives no longer have a "dead man switch" that must actively be pressed on at all times. They have instead an "alerter." If the engineer has made no control input (brake or throttle movement, not sure about the horn) within a certain set period of time (30 seconds, IIRC) an alert sounds and the engineer must respond by either pressing the alerter response button, which does nothing in and of itself, or doing something with the throttle or brakes. If the engineer does not respond, the brakes are automatically applied.

On US there are still emergency brake handles in the cars.

While conductors do not have a front view, they are supposed to have familiarity with the territory, and all railroad require a restrictive signal to be called over the radio, and many require all signals (CSX comes to mind) to be called, including clears. The latter is safer, if an engineer does not call a signal, the conductor should know where they are and inquire on the radio about what is going on.

If OBS crews take on operating responsibilities, they would be become subject to HOS regulations, at least in the US. That is actually one question I have about VIA Rail Canada, which has largely eliminated conductors. The Service Manager, an OBS position, handles everything in the train. The only T&E crew member is the engineer, there are none in the train. However, in some cases, the SM or ASM takes on what are clearly operating responsibilities, such as backing into Edmonton ("three more car lengths, two more"). The SM and ASM are not subject to HOS limitations, and in the US such activity by OBS employees would be very much against the regulations.
 
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mcropod

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When I was on the Empire Builder a couple of years ago, I had reason to have a lengthy chat with a Conductor, who was happy to show me her route card, which I captured here:
 

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jis

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While conductors do not have a front view, they are supposed to have familiarity with the territory, and all railroad require a restrictive signal to be called over the radio, and many require all signals (CSX comes to mind) to be called, including clears. The latter is safer, if an engineer does not call a signal, the conductor should know where they are and inquire on the radio about what is going on.
I have never heard a signal called on the radio on the NEC ACSES territory. It would be quite a cacophony as the train passes through Secaucus Jct where among the Hudson, Swift, Portal, Erie, Lack, Allied and Bergen control points there are signals every few hundred yards what with trains whizzing by at over 60mph as they ride the tail of the train 4 -5 sections ahead as the nine aspect signal rattles through the aspects. Standing at Secaucus Jct. Platform it is kind of fun to watch those signals run through the aspect as a train passes by it and carries on down line.

Apparently all of that is quite necessary to run 24tph at 60+mph.
 
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Trogdor

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There is no practical way for OBS to be "cross-trained" as T&E.

For one, you have to be qualified on the specific territory you operate over. This will be a few hundred miles, at most. On an LD train, there is nobody (not even conductors/engineers) that will be qualified on the whole route.

Second, as soon as you report, your HOS clock starts ticking. If the conductors or engineers run out of hours, there's a decent chance the OBS would already be "dead" at that point as well. The only exception would be out of an LD train's initial terminal where the T&E happen to have turned from another train but OBS are starting fresh. The only way to reset your HOS clock is to have stationary rest off the train, either at the site of your home crew base (where you would, presumably, have access to your own home) or at a location where the railroad has arranged hotel facilities at an away terminal. Sleeping on the train does not reset your clock, therefore, every OBS employee, even if they were qualified as T&E, would be expired after the first day/evening of the trip anyway.

Lastly, given the relatively rare occasion (and yes, despite it getting a lot of talk here and on various other forums, it is relatively rare) that an expired T&E crew causes a major delay waiting for recrew, OBS crews would probably not get enough regular experience to keep their skills current, which would either mean degraded safety when they are operating, or a lot of expense in training to keep them current and qualified for very little practical use.
 

zephyr17

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I have never heard a signal called on the radio on the NEC ACSES territory. It would be quite a cacophony as the train passes through Secaucus Jct where among the Hudson, Swift, Portal, Erie, Lack, Allied and Bergen control points there are signals every few hundred yards what with trains whizzing by at over 60mph as they ride the tail of the train 4 -5 sections ahead as the nine aspect signal rattles through the aspects. Standing at Secaucus Jct. Platform it is kind of fun to watch those signals run through the aspect as a train passes by it and carries on down line.

Apparently all of that is quite necessary to run 24tph at 60+mph.
Well, I don't travel the NEC very much, and I know it is pretty quiet when I do on the scanners. But the NEC is very much an exception to calling signals. They call signals on all surrounding railroads, including the MetroNorth Hudson Line, CSX, etc. IIRC, MetroNorth is less than clear only, on CSX all signals must be called. Those practices are in line with the rest of the country. I do not think calling signals is an FRA reg, but part of railroad operating rules.
 

Willbridge

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Reviewing the preceding items in this thread reminds me of how diverse signal and speed control and train stop devices and procedures are. My old Deutsche Bundesbahn Signalbuch is 96 pages, for a network that covered an area the size of the state of Oregon. Still, the basic principles are usually the same.

On German steam engines the engineer and fireman shouted signal aspects to each other, just as in North America (albeit in German!). But on branch line dmu's or bemu's, there was no signal calling.

1971 = The block signal shows "proceed at track speed" on the home signal, but to expect the next signal to be restrictive. This was overruled by a train order to stop and then proceed with caution where the maintenance-of-way people were set up.

07.jpg

In 1971, the tower operator has not yet cleared the departure signal. Passengers aren't even running yet.

1971 039.jpg

In 2002 light and position was still used in modern signals. It's hard to see through the bugs at Marienborn, but our train on the express track has a restrictive indication and the other three tracks show stop.

border46.jpg

After making the station stop, the departure signal shows proceed.
border52.jpg
 

jis

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Well, I don't travel the NEC very much, and I know it is pretty quiet when I do on the scanners. But the NEC is very much an exception to calling signals. They call signals on all surrounding railroads, including the MetroNorth Hudson Line, CSX, etc. IIRC, MetroNorth is less than clear only, on CSX all signals must be called. Those practices are in line with the rest of the country. I do not think calling signals is an FRA reg, but part of railroad operating rules.
I was merely pointing out that there is at least one very busy railroad where they are not called. I was not suggesting anything beyond that. 🤷🏻
 
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Concerning brakes, most trains today have 2 types of braking systems. Dynamic brakes essentially turn the traction motors into generators/alternators the current generated is dissipated using resistor grids, or for some electric locos can be fed back into the catenary (regenerative braking). I don't know if any Amtrak locos can do regenerative. The second system is the air brake which works via a brake line maintained to a certain pressure say 90 lbs when the brake is released. The brakes are applied by reducing the pressure on the brake pipe. This way the system is fail safe, loss of brake pipe pressure automatically applies the brakes.
 

joelkfla

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Concerning brakes, most trains today have 2 types of braking systems. Dynamic brakes essentially turn the traction motors into generators/alternators the current generated is dissipated using resistor grids, or for some electric locos can be fed back into the catenary (regenerative braking). I don't know if any Amtrak locos can do regenerative. The second system is the air brake which works via a brake line maintained to a certain pressure say 90 lbs when the brake is released. The brakes are applied by reducing the pressure on the brake pipe. This way the system is fail safe, loss of brake pipe pressure automatically applies the brakes.
What I don't understand is how a freight car left standing can become a runaway, and how cars can be humped if the brakes are applied when they're not pressurized.
 

jis

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Concerning brakes, most trains today have 2 types of braking systems. Dynamic brakes essentially turn the traction motors into generators/alternators the current generated is dissipated using resistor grids, or for some electric locos can be fed back into the catenary (regenerative braking). I don't know if any Amtrak locos can do regenerative. The second system is the air brake which works via a brake line maintained to a certain pressure say 90 lbs when the brake is released. The brakes are applied by reducing the pressure on the brake pipe. This way the system is fail safe, loss of brake pipe pressure automatically applies the brakes.
All Amtrak electric locos can do blended regenerative braking irrespective of which voltage/frequency system they are under.

I believe the new diesels can regenerate to HEP, for at least the one connected to HEP.
 

caravanman

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What I don't understand is how a freight car left standing can become a runaway, and how cars can be humped if the brakes are applied when they're not pressurized.
In order to move cars around, or hump shunt loose cars, the brake cylinders are bled of air pressure, sometimes known (in the UK) as "pulling the cords". It is the pressure of air in the cylinders that applies the brake, by reduction of pressure in the brake pipes. Cars standing idle without the brake pipe being topped up by the loco, will eventually loose the cylinder air over time. (This is what happened in the Canadian disaster a few years back). Hand brakes should be applied to wagons left standing for a long period.
 
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