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© DECEMBER 11, 2006  

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Live Steam Lawsuits
Part III  Running A Safe Railroad

continued from part 2

Written by Jim O'Connor

The 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 condition).

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.

More Information: Article 109 also deals with this subject.



the end

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