What is a flag stop?

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cirdan

Conductor
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Mar 30, 2011
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Stupid question maybe, but what exactly is a flag stop?

If you want to get off at one, I guess you inform the conductor suficiently well in advance and he or she informs the engineer and / or scheduler.

But if you want to get on, what happens.

Do you need to wave to stop the train, a bit like a bus?

Or does the booking system automatically alert the train staff that somebody has booked a ticket and that there's somebody waiting to get on?

Or is there a phone number you need to call?

Or what?
 

FrensicPic

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Jan 15, 2012
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Generally, you need to be shown on the manifest as getting on or off at a flag stop (reservations)...the conductor should know ahead of time.

My past observation (and listening to the scanner) on the Sunset Limited is that they at least slow down to "take a look".
 
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Karl1459

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A Flag stop is a station where the train is not obliged to stop unless there is a passenger to get on or let off. In ancient history there might be a flag for a customer to set for the engineer to see so they could stop the train, with today's vandalisim and higher train speeds I doubt this is practical.

To answer all of your other questions: Notify the conductor if you are to get off, and the reservation system should notify the conductor you are to get on.
 

MikefromCrete

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In Chicago, Metra Electric has a lot of flag stop stations, places where patronage is low. Passengers on board are told to notify the conductor that they want to get off at a flag stop. Passengers wanting to get on need to stand in a position where they are visible to the engineer.

On the South Shore Line flag stops are equipped with a strobe light. Passengers are advised to push a button five minutes before the arrival of a train that will activate the strobe.

On Amtrak, the conductor has a manifest that tells him if someone needs to get on or off at a flag stop. VIA has flag stops that require 72 hour advance notice for a train to stop.
 
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cirdan

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OK thanks for your replies.

And how do I know where to wait? I don't know for example if my car is at the front or the middle or the rear of the train?

Do I just get on at the closest door that opens and walk inside the train, or will somebody step down and show me the way?
 

caravanman

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Mar 22, 2004
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Dunno where to wait in practice, but try not to worry. I would suggest that the middle makes most sense, whichever end the open door is, you only have a maximum of half a train to walk...

Ed :cool:
 
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T

The Whistler

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One flag stop would be on the Empire Builder at the Isaac Walton inn in Glacier National Park.
 

greatcats

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The train should know that you will be boarding. At small platforms the train may make more than one stop, for sleepers and coaches. So, if you have a coach ticket and the sleepers stop first, the crew would probably tell you to wait a minute for the train to pull forward for the coaches to stop at the platform. For what it is worth, Williams Junction, Arizona is not listed as a flag stop. I don't know if this is normal procedure, but I've heard on at least one occasion the crew say to each other " No Williams Junction tonight " because the manifest had no passengers getting on or off. That is an unusual location, because it is out in the forest and is only supposed to be accessed by the hotel van, although I have seen other people drive in there to pick up passengers.
 

Devil's Advocate

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The nearest flag stop for me is Sanderson TX. Even if nobody is on the manifest the train slows to approach speed so that if someone is visible and wants to get on the train can stop and collect them. Just keep in mind that if you don't reserve in advance you'll be paying the maximum full fare cost for stopping the train in the middle of nowhere without a reservation. Since Sanderson actively fought to prevent their train station from being rehabilitated it's nothing but a gravel pit and a sign now.
 
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A couple years ago, on my return to Albuquerque from L.A. on the SWC, the train stopped out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night (I'm guessing Arizona) and a family of five boarded the train.

As I recall it, there was just a small wooden platform with a simple wooden roof.

A car (auto) was parked off to the side with a man watching. I guess that's how the passengers got to the location.
 

tomfuller

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The Williams Junction platform looks like it is about 4 times the size of the Essex MT platform. Essex is used almost exclusively by guests of the Isaac Walton Lodge. In the spring, the stop at East Glacier will open again and Browning will close for the summer.

On May 31 2013, my wife and I got off the EB in Cut Bank. We were the only ones who got off and no one got on. I'm guessing that if we had not got off there, the train would have rolled slowly through Cut Bank stopping if someone wanted the train to stop.

I never did meet the guy who rented us the car in Cut Bank. The keys were in the gas cap flap and the rental contract was in the sun visor for me to sign. Returned the car 23.5 hours later and locked the keys in the car.
 

greatcats

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Yep, that is good old WMJ, but as I wrote on another thread recently, the hotel lobby makes a nice waiting room. ( actually more comfy than Flagstaff or the lobby of La Posada in Winslow ). And the stargazing from Williams Junction platform at 4 in the morning is fabulous!
 

fairviewroad

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On May 31 2013, my wife and I got off the EB in Cut Bank. We were the only ones who got off and no one got on. I'm guessing that if we had not got off there, the train would have rolled slowly through Cut Bank stopping if someone wanted the train to stop.
I suspect it would have stopped anyhow, because Cut Bank is not a flag stop. I've been on the Builder where there have been no on/offs in Malta and Browning. Someone (I assume the conductor) makes a PA announcement to the effect of "No station business in _______" and the train halts for about 5 seconds.

Personally, I don't really get why Essex is a flag stop. It's the only flag stop on the entire Builder route. Why have a different policy in effect for a single station? It's not as though the train is zipping past there at 79 mph. Slowing down, but not stopping, at a single location on a 2200 mile route is not going to result in meaningful time/fuel savings. Instead, it just needlessly adds to the anxiety level of people getting on or off there.
 

JayPea

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I was on the EB one time between Spokane and Portland, and at Wishram, which is not a flag stop, there were no passengers getting on or off. The train slowed way down but never did come to a total and complete stop. More like a rolling stop. This was the first, last, and only time I remember this happening.
 

NorthShore

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At night, the correct historical procedure to flag a train is to light a newspaper on fire from the platform as the train approaches into sight and stand holding it for the engineer to see.
 

Railroad Bill

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Tyrone, Pa is a flag stop for the Pennsylvanian. If you are standing on the platform, the train will stop to pick you up.

We had an interesting circumstance where our railfan group was taking photos at the station stop and when the westbound train came to the platform the conductor signaled the engineer to stop. Of course, none of us were boarding..and no one was getting off either..

The conductor just called up on his radio when his car arrived at the platform and said "its just those crazy railfan guys, no passengers here.." Do not think he was happy with us, but we waved and he waved back.. :)
 

gdj

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When I was young Culpeper, VA was a flag stop for the C&O and a regular stop for the Southern. When someone was there to board a C&O train, the ticket agent had a green flag on a stick which was shoved into a holed which was bored into a pole adjacent to the track. I always assumed that was why it was a flag stop. Without computers it was difficult to transmit last minute reservations.
 

railiner

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On the Alaska RR, and also, IIRC, on the VIA train to Churchill, and on some other remote lines, the train operating in the wilderness will stop at virtually any point, station or not, to let off passenger's or pick them up. They simply 'wave' like hailing a taxi....
 

AKA

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Yep, that is good old WMJ, but as I wrote on another thread recently, the hotel lobby makes a nice waiting room. ( actually more comfy than Flagstaff or the lobby of La Posada in Winslow ). And the stargazing from Williams Junction platform at 4 in the morning is fabulous!
anytime is good for wildlife gazing at WMJ. Shuttle bus had to stop three times in trip last year for elk on the road.
 

Bierboy

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One flag stop would be on the Empire Builder at the Isaac Walton inn in Glacier National Park.
We've used that flag stop, and, if you're a sleeper passenger, the manifest shows that and the engineer SHOULD know where to stop (the platform there isn't very long, though they have improved it over the past several years). And, in reality, the platform isn't anywere near the Isaac Walton; it's down at least a quarter mile or so. The hotel provides van transport for passengers to and from the platform (or at least did several years ago).
 
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cirdan

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Thank you all for your replies.

This has been really useful.

I wasn't thinking of any location in particular, just planning possible upcoming Amtrak trips and looking at various options and things I haven't tried yet.
 

trainman74

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Apr 7, 2011
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And how do I know where to wait? I don't know for example if my car is at the front or the middle or the rear of the train?

Do I just get on at the closest door that opens and walk inside the train, or will somebody step down and show me the way?
I actually have related experience. It's not a flag stop -- which means the train would have stopped anyway, no matter what -- but a few years ago, I was boarding a sleeper on the California Zephyr at Fraser-Winter Park, and I was the only person on the manifest getting on or off.

The train stopped with the door for my sleeping car right in front of where I happened to be standing on the platform. Both the conductor and the sleeping car attendant were at the door to greet me. (And then the conductor stepped out briefly, presumably to make absolutely sure there was no one else trying to board.)
 

FriskyFL

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How often does a train fail to stop at a flag stop, what would be the consequences?
 
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