From Pine View Farm

The Rules 5

208(a) A train that is advanced to a meeting or waiting point where the opposing train receives the order must approach such station at reduced speed. Where location of the train order signal may permit an opposing train to overrun siding switch, a flagman must protect ahead as prescribed by Rule 99.

Makes sense to me.

This is from the Southern Railway System Operating Rules, effective August 1, 1956; they belonged to my first father-in-law, one of the finest men I ever knew. It arrived in a letter from my daughter today.

(Thanks to a merger with the Norfolk and Western, the Southern is now part of the Norfolk Southern, bringing back a famous name in US railroading.)

When I knew Jim Snyder, he was a lobbyist. He wasn’t some kind of consultant for hire, definitely not a Republican who could be had by anyone who had enough money (there’s a word for persons like that); he was elected to the position of Legislative Director for the UTU and obliged to serve his constituents by representing them well and honestly; indeed, he was one of the founders of the UTU.

This was before Abramoff. With Jim Snyder, there was no question of phony deals and under-cover operations; he was effective because he was a man of his word. Congressmen knew he told the truth and that his word was his bond.

Before I got involved in physical security, I worked for the railroad of 24 years. I was never in a road service craft–I was always a staff employee–but I spent my career working with all crafts and classes of employees (as we would say on the railroad).

I walked the track with track inspectors.

I cleared into cubby-holes on the Susquehanna River bridge as Metroliners went by at the reduced speed of 90 miles an hour.

I crawled around broken equipment with mechanical employees.

I knew every officer of the APD from sergeant and above.

I toured the tracks under “A” tower at Penn Station, New York.

I creaked through the Donner Pass on the Amtrak #6 when snow was deep on the snow sheds.

I know how to carry a tray on a dining car on one arm without spilling anything.

I rode the headend from New York to Washington. (That means I was in the locomotive with the Engineer–life looks different at 125 miles an hour.) Indeed, there was the one Engineer–the Rocket (every division has a Rocket–he is the Philadelphia Division Rocket)–who, whenever he saw me on the platform, would invite me ride the headend with him (unless he had some bigwig on board).

And, dammit, when you got on a train wearing 15- or 20-years-of-service pin, nobody tried to pull the wool over your eyes. They knew you were an Old Head, and they played straight with you.

I see that quote from the SR rules, and I see a railroad coming to life. Trains coming and going, trains of the second class giving way to trains of the first class, train crews moving to protect their trains, and, throughout it all, the first rule of every railroad in the United States:

“Safety is of the first importance in the discharge of duty.”

And it is the first rule. The railroad is a hell of a dangerous place, but railroads’ adherence to the first rule has caused most people, even those who ride trains daily and who cross tracks daily, to have no idea of how dangerous it can be out there for the unwary.

I did not see how much the railroad drills that first rule into railroaders, until I left the industry, and realized that how sensitive I am to hazards, as opposed to those around me.

I can’t say I miss my previous employer, but sometimes I sure as hell miss the railroad.



  1. Opie

    February 21, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    There’s a special romance to railroading, and I don’t mean the passenger experience, I mean the technology, logistics and tradition.

    One day, years ago, I was assigned to work with a guy I’d never worked with before. At lunch, I asked him if he wanted to go to a restaurant. He said he’d brought a sack lunch and preferred to eat in his work van. We swung through a Wendy’s drive-up to get me something, then he headed straight for the train depot. He told me he ate near train tracks every single day he could.

    Recently, I asked whatever happened to him. Turns out he lost his job from taking too many extended lunch hours at the train tracks. (Seriously. That’s exactly what I was told!)

  2. Second Son

    February 22, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    I miss the railroad.

  3. Frank

    February 22, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Opie, we have a name for people like him.

    Railroaders call them FRNs. It stands for F(reaking) Rail Nuts.

    They are the Trekkies of the steam age.

  4. Opie

    February 22, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Wow, that’s interesting. This guy would have qualified for exactly that, and it sounds like you know his type. In the interests of brevity, I didn’t mention that he carried a camera with him and took pictures of freight cars. He was also the guy who explained to me how if you look up a track and see a red light, that means the next train on that track is coming toward you.

  5. Frank

    February 23, 2006 at 5:58 am

    You wrote:

    He was also the guy who explained to me how if you look up a track and see a red light, that means the next train on that track is coming toward you.

    I write: