best way to protect your railroad from a lawsuit or insurance claim is to run an
extremely safe railroad with zero accidents. Most of what it takes to run
a safe railroad is just common sense.
If you are planning a railroad from scratch, you need
to be aware that any train that runs on a track can derail. Derailments
are the most frequent accidents we see on our tracks. When we haul guests,
we must consider that there will be a certain amount of movement and shifting of
people during the ride. The narrow gauge trains have smaller, lighter cars which
can tend to make them more top heavy when hauling people. They also have a
narrower stance on the track. If you are still in the early planning stages of
your railroad, consider this: In general, the larger the gauge, the more stable
the ride and the less chance of derailments due to bad rider behavior.
For the rest of us, we have what we have and our job has always been to find
ways to make it work .
The type of car you
use to haul the public is of great importance. Cars that have a low center
of gravity (CG) are more stable on the track than other cars. Hoppers and
boxcars where you sit at the roof line of the car have a high CG.
Low sided gondolas and flat cars are better. Perhaps the best car is one
that's designed for riders and uses a drop center feature. The bottom
plate in the center should be extra heavy to give a lower CG and therefore, more
stability. Keep the seats low to the deck. You can use a bench seat or
individual seats. Individual seats have the advantage of limiting the number of
folks that can ride on the car. Over crowding is not good. Safety
chains are a must. Some folks feel a car that allows you to quickly extend
your legs outward to keep from toppling in a derailment is an advantage. A
gondola is more confining to the legs than a flat car. But is a gondola
less safe than a flat car with a fixed box for a seat? I'd be
interested to see if anyone has evidence one way or the other.
The condition and set up of the truck or bogie can
affect your ability to stay on the rails. The trucks should be loose
enough to allow the wheels to follow a small dip or rise in the track. And the
springs should be set up to handle the full range of load that your car can
experience. This is no easy feat. Watch for cars with springs that
are so stiff they would not allow the wheels to move to follow uneven track.
If a wheel lifts up off the track, even for a second, it's very possible that
when the wheel comes back down, the rail may not be directly under it. Now
you're on the ground. There are dozens of other car issues that can cause
a derailment like couplers that don't have enough play and "pull" cars right off
the track in a curve. You as the engineer might take the occasional
derailment in stride, but if you have guests riding on your equipment, it's
important to strive for zero derailments.
Derailments are exasperated by speed. Keeping
the train speed down to a safe, perhaps boring, speed is certainly a good idea.
If a train is moving at a walking speed of 3 mph, it can be stopped more quickly
in the event of a derailment. Derailments caused by one rail taking a dip or
rise can be addressed by placing a level between the rails, pull up on the lower
rail and retamp that section. Other rail related causes include rail joiner
problems or the track gauge being too narrow or too wide possibly due to old
worn out ties. It's often advisable to widen the gauge slightly in a turn. If
you tend to derail at a switch, look for point problems, guard and frog issues.
Inspect your track at the beginning of the run
day before you take passengers. Look for track issues including debris
along the right-of-way. Record what you see and what you do to correct
problems. If someone is injured in a mishap, documenting your maintenance
can prove your railroad really cares about running safely. This daily
documentation will show you inspected the track that day and every day and
hazards are corrected immediately. Documenting your car and
locomotive inspections is also advisable (make sure the brakes are in good
Derailments are very often caused by the riders
themselves. Sometimes it's a case of too much weight over one truck.
You know to balance the load front to back. But often it's leaning or
reaching that can tip a car or pull the wheels on one side up enough to cause a
derailment. In addition to posting "No Leaning or Reaching" signs at the
station, you could stencil it on the car where the riders can read it. And
since that wouldn't be 100% effective, you may need to place a conductor in the
last seat of your train. Make sure she or he is equipped with a horn or
whistle so they can warn the riders (and engineer) immediately when an
infraction occurs. And be ready to be tough if riders can't follow the
rules. It may be necessary to ban someone from riding. Safety is more
important than hurt feelings.
Although rare, mishaps other than derailments can
occur. To reduce the risk of collision, make sure your engine and train
have adequate brakes that are tested regularly. Do whatever is necessary to keep
folks (and vehicles) from crossing your tracks except at marked and signaled
crossings. Although no one likes to talk about it, let's not forget about
"Engineer Error". Just like "pilot error", engineer error can contribute
to serious accidents. If you have an engineer that's "hot dogging" it
around the track with passengers, it's trouble waiting to happen. If he
can't see well or can't pay attention to what he's doing or is immature, he has
no business hauling your guests. Make sure your engineers operate at safe
speeds. It may not be as much fun to drive slowly, but it sure is safer.
Written by Jim O'Connor
NOTICE: The information above is my opinion
only. These are only suggestions to help make your railroad more safe.
I did not include everything. I could not think of every possible cause or
cure. Run as safe an operation as you can and be sure to share this
unique model railroad experience with as many folks as you can.
Readier Comment: With the creation of
an annual large public event last year, our club has given a lot of time and
debate as how to handle the public in general. Without doubt its important to
take care of your track, club rolling stock (if any), private equipment and
grounds. More importantly we have determined safe loading practices which have
taken care of a majority of derailments, keeping the track moving in an orderly
fashion. We have started to use so called "T" rail cars for the club use, and
shyed away from gons for adults who can't move there legs as easy as younger
folks. We have put smaller children into hoppers and gons by there size, which
keeps them in place and is safer for them. Some of our members believe that
seat boxes (esp. loose ones) are a bad idea, while others like them, in general
I believe a good variety provides the greatest flexibly as long you are aware
of how to load the equipment. Another problem, as you often hear from your
local law enforcement, is running at an safe speed. We have determined at our
track with our equipment (while hauling public) safe speed is not faster then a
brisk walk. The use of a waiver was started this year, with the encouragement
of our insurances law staff, you should talk to your insurance they don't want
a law suit filled just as much as you (its not a save all but every little bit
helps). We were lucky enough to talk to a lawyer from our insurance at a board
meeting this helped us understand were we stand and run ideas past him.
Conductors (on trains with 2 cars but no more then 6), and a station master are
used to help load and monitor the trains, post rules, verbal speech of rules
(also printed on tickets), and bad ordering equipment that derails twice in the
same spot. Some other small things for instance we no longer allow 2 trains on
our double track bridge at the same time, while on parallel tracks no over
taking and only one train may be moving while opposing (the diesels or smaller
train must stop) to prevent reaching out to passengers.
Article 109 also deals with this subject.