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Keep railroad safety on track

Detailed planning, proper training and communication are key components for any shuttle load/unload operation.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Photo courtesy of Hy-Safe Technology
Photo courtesy of Hy-Safe Technology

Last fall, an employee at a grain cooperative in Illinois died from multiple traumatic injuries as the result of a train versus railcar mover accident.

Steven Jordan, 69, was a grain superintendent at Legacy Grain Cooperative in Stonington, Illinois, when the accident occurred. The initial investigation noted a Norfolk Southern train hauling four empty rail cars was northeast bound when the railcar mover crossed into the path of the train, causing the collision.

Jordan was pronounced dead at the scene.

Like other areas of a grain processing or feed manufacturing facility, the rail yard demands employees' full attention and safe practices at all times.

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) offers these safety tips and suggested practices for shuttle loading and rail operations.

Effective communications

Prior to working around railcars, a set of requirements needs to be established between the rail crew and facility employees.

Since a loading/unloading operation typically is loud by nature, depending solely on voice and radio communication is not always efficient.

One way to address this issue is to use lights during dark hours or a spotter relaying hand and arm signals during daylight hours.

Regardless of which method(s) chosen, always ensure that the person(s) you are working with understands what you are trying to communicate before an action is initiated.

Working around railcars

When an employee or crew member is required to go between or work on the end of cars, following these practices:

  • Engine operator has a clear understanding of the work to be performed
  • Engine operator is notified by employee/crew of movement between cars and verifies by radio
  • Engine operator ensures the equipment will not move until the employee/crew requesting protection has reported by radio that they are no longer between or on the end of the equipment
  • The employee/crew going between or working on the end of equipment is to wait until all movement of equipment has stopped and the slack has adjusted
  • When stepping out from between cars or power units, employees/crew are to watch for equipment moving on adjacent tracks or roadways

Track etiquette

  • Do not cross within 25 feet of standing cars
  • Do not cross in front of approaching cars
  • Step over, not onto, the tracks, frogs or switches
  • Do not walk between tracks
  • Do not sit on the track or rail structures
  • Do not sit on the steps or handrails of a moving power unit
  • Do not attempt to mount, cross over, cross under or dismount a rail car while it is moving

Car roof operations and roof fall protections

Environmental conditions, such as walkways made slippery by snow, ice or rain can cause workers to lose their footing and potentially slip off rail car roof tops.

Employees should not stand on any other portion of the car roof other than the walkway. Windy days can pose an additional hazard for workers on top of the cars.

Riding or standing on the roof of a moving car should only be done while the car is at the loadout spout and when the car is creeping or stopped. Additional safety training is advised for employees at facilities equipped with car roof fall protection systems.

Hopper gates

Railcar hopper gates were designed to open and close easily. Damage, normal wear/tear and weather can all deteriorate a hopper gate to the point of it requiring additional help to move.

Tools, such as a large ratchet/socket combo or a pry bar, are often used. The safest way to use a pry bar is for the worker to have a secure grip, feet securely planted, and to pull up with the leg muscles minimizing back strain. To minimize the chance of injury, seek additional help.

Crossing over cars

An employee should cross only between cars equipped with crossover platforms and hand holds. Always maintain a firm grip and be prepared for sudden movement.

Never step on a coupler, uncoupling lever or draw bar while crossing through cars. Do not cross underneath a coupler. Instead, find a car with a safe crossover platform. Never attempt to cross over while the cars are in motion.

Ensure that crossover platforms, ladders and handrails are inspected. If possible, use another car in the string to mount or cross between cars. Using a car drawbar as a step can be dangerous because each drawbar has several inches of slack and a foot can easily be caught if the car happens to move or is jarred.

  • Remember: Never cross under a rail car

Don’t forget the blue flag

The practice of blue flagging keeps unauthorized engines and track mobiles from entering an occupied spur and striking parked rail cars or workers.

Find more safety tips at NGFA's website here.

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