Rail Responses Provide Extrication Challenges

A good number of us have rail lines, light rail transit systems and even tourist railroad operations in our communities that we serve and protect. Rail rescue responses provide all kinds of challenges and present numerous types of rail car construction, locomotives and equipment.

You should know the locations of the best access points to rail lines are that run through your community. You or your communications center should have the contact numbers for dispatchers who control traffic over local rail lines. Also it is a good idea to carry this information in command vehicles. A good set of topographic maps is often useful for mapping access and anticipating the flow of spilled materials.

In general, response to rail-based incidents requires a whole host of tools, from hand tools to the very heavy-duty power tools. Usually you’ll need large cribbing and jacks, low- and high-pressure air bags, cutting torches and other specialized tools.

No matter what kind of train is involved there is always some type of locomotive engine for power. They can be diesel, steam or electric, or a combination. Passenger and freight diesel locomotives are the most common, but few firefighters know that the diesels do not directly power the train. The diesel engines drive huge generators that produce energy for electric traction motors that actually turn the wheels.

System failures on a moving train can develop electric motor fires as well as diesel exhaust fires leading to emergencies. But the biggest fire hazard occurs following a train crash. Even the most modern emergency shut-down systems will fail in a train wreck.

A good reference guide for locomotives and passenger cars is the Emergency Evacuation Procedures guide by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) that was put out several years ago. This manual has technical data, diagrams and related information for various type passenger cars. Important for firefighters are diagrams of door access systems on both passenger cars and locomotives.

Access to the crew cab areas of diesel locomotives can be made in several ways. Cab doors may swing either inward or outward depending on manufacturer and most have latches and windows.

The doors may be forced with hydraulic rescue tools. A small portable unit such as the Power Hawk P-16 or the Hurst LKE 55 are good choices because they can be operated in confined spaces.

Cab door glass and windshields are usually set in a removable rubber gasket channel or some other frame secured with screws or fasteners. The door and window glass may be plastic laminate, safety glass or even Lexan, each requiring different removal techniques and tools.

Some other considerations include having heavy wood cribbing available and the ability to lift the locomotive if needed. Locomotive cab area entrapment may require the use of hydraulic rescue tools, a Milwaukee Sawzall and small hand tools as well.

Locomotives with a large forward nose often have a bathroom area located there. Wide body locomotives without outside walkways usually have inside walkway areas. Check for victims in all hidden areas.

As for hazards besides the usual, we need to remember that locomotives run on No. 2 diesel fuel and can have tanks holding several thousand gallons. All locomotives have manual in-cab emergency fuel shut-offs and another near the fuel tanks.

Each make and style of locomotive type has its own unique electrical system. Get together with your local railroad’s safety staff. They can provide you with a ton of information that will help you preplan for railroad emergencies.

Passenger car bodies are usually made from steel and aluminum. Doors between the can be pneumatically, hydraulically or electrically operated.

The passenger cars will have marked emergency windows, just like a bus. Most cars have a dual double window setup with a rubber molding holding both an outer pane of safety glass and an inner pane of Lexan. To remove this type window you need to break the outer pane with a striking tool and cut through the Lexan with a Sawzall.

Newer cars use a double pane held in by a rubber zipper strip and gasket. Use a small screwdriver to remove the zipper strip and then the window inward along the lower edge. The window will easily fall into the car.

Emergency windows must be released by pulling the inside red handle to drop entire window inward. The car may have several support systems such as high voltage electricity, propane gas and refrigeration units. There are dining cars, coaches, sleepers and roomettes, each with its own layouts. Contact your local railroad for more information.

Make sure you notify the railroad dispatcher when working along the right-of-way. As always be safe and return to quarters.

Editor’s Note: Allen Baldwin is the manager of operations and incident response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and a volunteer assistant chief with the Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter and EMT for over 25 years, served as chief of the Chambersburg (Pa.) Fire Department and is an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and several community colleges.

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