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Railroads: Learn how Long Trains Can Cause Major Issues

by Joshua Brown
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The government just warned railroad companies that their super long trains can cause many issues and might even lead to derailments, so they need to make sure their workers are properly trained and follow the appropriate operating rules.

The Federal Railroad Administration did not suggest that trains should be made smaller in their safety announcement on Thursday. Still, they suggested a few things like ensuring that engineers know how to control the trains and making sure that the brake systems of the locomotives stay connected with devices at the last part of the trains which could help stop them in an emergency.

At the moment, there are no rules on how long trains can be. But after a bad train accident in Ohio last February, members of Congress and some state governments said they want to make laws to limit how long trains can be. The big freight rail companies don’t like this idea because they are using longer trains now with fewer workers and mechanics, doing more work than before over the past six years. A CEO at one of these companies said that he doesn’t think train data shows that having longer trains is any riskier.

Federal Railways Administration has noticed that three times, trains longer than 3734 meters (12250 feet) were involved in derailments. They and the National Academies of Sciences are now analyzing if this size is the cause behind the incidents, and their results will be announced next year.

The FRA has said that these accidents show how important it is for railroads and people who work for them to be extra careful when driving big trains.

Three train derailments happened in the past year – one in Springfield, Ohio in March, another one in Ravenna, Ohio last November and the other one was in Rockwell, Iowa this March. The reason behind these derailments may have been that cars from different parts of each train were pushing and pulling against each other.

Last February, there was a train accident near East Palestine, Ohio which made people evacuate. The National Transportation Safety Board said that the accident was caused by an overheated bearing on the railcar making its axle break down.

This month, there was an announcement to trains. They should look at how they connect their cars in a way that reduces the forces that happen when it goes over hills or around curves. Different parts of the train can pull forwards up a hill while behind the middle and back push versus other cars downhill.

Controlling a train is difficult, so authorities say that railroad companies must adjust their training to make sure the engineers are ready for handling big trains. Putting more locomotives in the middle of long trains as well as in the front can assist with managing them, but on the other hand this extra locomotive makes controlling the train harder for the engineer.

Regulators said that to safely run trains with more difficult challenges, the person running it must have special training. The Association of American Railroads (a trade group) stated that railroads are making an effort to manage these types of trains and look for ways to ensure safety.

The FRA (Federal Rail Administration), railroads and elected officials all have the same aim – to make sure that rail safety is constantly improved, to protect people and places around train tracks and also to keep goods moving. AAR spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek said this makes perfect sense. The advice from the FRA follows what railroads are already doing.

The Federal Railroad Administration said that there’s a risk of dangerous accidents if trains stay stopped on the tracks for too long. This causes problems like stopping police, firefighters, and ambulances from visiting people who need help quickly. It also puts pedestrians in danger because they might try to sneak across the track while it’s still moving without them knowing it.

Six states – Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada and Washington – have plans to limit the sizes of trains this year.

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