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tips for all

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Jun 23, 2006
Area C
How to stop a train in an emergency

Here's some information that I thought I'd share with everyone, since
we had an incident here in Ventura County, CA that ended up on a hot
rail. A pickup and a sedan collided, with 3 patients, 1 critical
airlifted out. This section of track owned by the Union Pacific
Railroad, has Metrolink, the Amtrak Surfliner, the Coast Starlight,
and UP Freight on it. They were lucky that they got the Metrolink
stopped in time, since the track speed in that area is 79 mph.

This comes from the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR), which is a
common set of rules that all railroads must follow. The BNSF publishes
a .PDF and .PDB version of the rules, so you can read them online.
Additional information comes from a lecture by Ernie Sirotek, Jr.,
Chemical Transportation Safety Manager for the UPRR out of Oakland,


#1: Immediately call the railroad's operation center and inform them
that you have an incident on the tracks. Give them a mile post number,
block name or crossing name. Crossings have milepost numbers and
contact numbers painted or attached to them. Tell them that you are
sending flagmen out to protect the incident.

#2: Send a firefighter or LEO out 2 miles in each direction from the
incident. Make sure they have a minimum of 6 fusees, a red flag (if
possible) and a method of communicating with personnel at the

#3: Have the FF/LEO (now called a flagman) drop a lit fusee in the
center of the tracks at their location, and keep a fusee lit for the
duration of the incident. A lit fusee in the gauge is an indication
for any train to stop immediately.

#4: The flagman needs to stand 6' from the tracks on the left side of
the tracks with back to the incident watching for trains. When the
flagman sees an approaching train, he needs to begin waving his
outstretched arm or flag from above his head to his side in a 180
degree arc. This signal should be continued until it is acknowledged
by 2 short blasts of the whistle, or by verbal confirmation with the

GCOR 5.3.5 states that an engineer must obtain a thorough explanation
from the flagman before proceeding through a stop signal.

GCOR 5.4.7 states that a train must not pass a red light or red flag
placed in the gauge until "removed by an employee of the class that
placed it", which generally means the person who placed it.

#5: When the incident has cleared from the tracks, inform the
railroad's operations center that you have cleared the area. If there
is damage to the tracks, ties or roadbed, inform them so they can send
out a crew to repair the damage.

If the damage to the tracks is severe enough to cause damage to the
rail equipment, inform them so that they can move the trains away from
the damaged section until a crew can be brought in. This includes
spread or pinched gauge, bent rail, rail pushed out of parallel,
damaged crown (top load-bearing surface) of the rail, or more than 3
damaged ties in a row.

I hope this helps those of you that have tracks going through your
response area.


Jan 6, 2004
Hamilton, ON
Hmm...is that reprinted from the Whacker Handbook?

Seriously, as a member of the general public, calling 911 and assisting as best as you can at the scene until the professionals show up should be a) common knowledge and hopefully human nature and b) all you should concern yourself with.

I tell you what, I'm not going to go looking for the number of the railroad's operations centre in a situation like that...that's what 911 is for.


Silent Key Jan. 14, 2012
May 11, 2002
Eclipse, Virginia
If what Landon wrote is policy, the Engineer expects to see this signal (flare and/or red flag waving) in the event this scenario happens. Of course, 911 will be doing what it can to contact the proper railroad officials, but the public will not forgive the untrained department which failed to do what it could to prevent a train from hitting a school bus laying on it's side at a RR crossing with 40 injured kids inside.

Folks, if you have RR xings in your jurisdiction, your department should have this situation in the training syllabus.


Aug 6, 2004
Upstate New York


Thank you for posting.

I live about a mile away from a major railroad crossing and three miles away from a secondary crossing. As such - and unfortunately - incidents do occur on or near the tracks and/or crossings (ATV vs train, stuck gate, car/truck testing the laws of physics, suicides, etc) on a fairly 'routine' basis. Obviously, very sad stuff and much of it preventable. Actually, there is nothing really 'routine' about it. :(

Anyways, the local police and fire officials do seem to follow to the items you outlined, especially bullet items 1 and 2, as part of their incident response. They may/probably follow the other items, but I can only confirm the first two via monitoring.

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