The 5th Annual Rail Safety Week takes place from September 20-26, 2021.
This year, we're answering all of your pressing rail safety questions, and sharing information on how to reduce injuries and fatalities around trains and railroad tracks.
Your Rail Safety Questions Answered
We asked our passengers and the public to send us their questions about rail safety. Below are answers to those questions as explained by Rail Runner staff.
How do the brakes on a train work?
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express uses air brakes. The Engineer sets and releases the brakes using an automatic brake valve. ~ Larry Anaya, Manager of Maintenance and Equipment
How do the gate arms at highway-rail crossings know when to come down? Does the speed of the train make a difference when they come down?
Crossing devices must be actuated in advance of the train’s arrival to allow road users to clear the track area, and is called "warning time.” Warning time at grade crossings is federally regulated to be a minimum of 20 seconds before the train arrives at the crossing. “Track circuitry,” or the activation of electronic components of trains and tracks such as coils, resistors, and relays, are set to activate the crossing warning devices at the posted track speed at the approach of the crossing. The actual speed of an approaching train is not a factor; it is the track speed at that segment of tracks that dictates the distance for the activation. ~ Matthew Wylie, Quality Assurance Coordinator
How do the signals along the track work? Are they like traffic lights?
Railroad signals are similar to traffic signals in regards to green means go, yellow slow down and be prepared to stop, and red means stop. Railroad signals also add a fourth aspect - flashing yellow. Aspects for traffic signals (green, yellow, red) are all in the same place at an intersection.
Railroad signals are typically 6 miles in advance, i.e., there is an occupancy out in front of a train, you have a green at Mile Post 0, a flashing yellow at Mile Post 2, a yellow at Mile Post 4, and a red at Mile Post 6. Railroad signals not only give speed instructions to the engineer but also separate trains on the track by time and distance. That time and distance is important because it takes a lot of distance to stop a train. ~ Scott Reif, Manager of Signals
How fast does the train travel?
The train travels at different speeds on different parts of the track. For example, through restricted limits, such as specific segments of the track in Albuquerque, it travels at lower speeds based on the maximum allowed track speed which could be 25 MPH or 40 MPH. The top speed that the train can travel is 79 MPH. ~ Larry Anaya, Manager of Maintenance and Equipment
How many stations are there?
There are 15 New Mexico Rail Runner Express stations from Santa Fe to Belen. ~ Lisa Sedillo, Customer Service Agent
I live near a quiet zone. Sometimes I hear the train whistle. Why does that happen?
According to Title 49 of the code of Federal Regulations, “A locomotive engineer may sound the locomotive horn to provide a warning to animals, vehicle operators, pedestrians, trespassers or crews on other trains in an emergency situation if, in the locomotive engineer's sole judgment, such action is appropriate in order to prevent imminent injury, death, or property damage.” Persons within a Quiet Zone may also hear a train horn if crossing warning devices (such as a wayside horn, active warning devices, crossing warning systems) are malfunctioning. ~ Matthew Wylie, Quality Assurance Coordinator
Is there security on the trains?
Rio Metro's commitment to safety and security has always been a priority. Security officers perform spot checks on trains throughout the day and evening to ensure safe travel for our riders and train crew. As for our rail stations, there is an emergency button on the kiosk to use if needed. In case of emergency, press the red button. Press the black button to reach the customer service office. ~ Lisa Sedillo, Customer Service Agent
What does Positive Train Control (PTC) do?
PTC is an added safety feature (safety overlay) that is Federally required and provides additional protection against human error. Some of the primary benefits of having it is added protection against trains speeding, running through switches, running into tracks where another train or work crew is located, stopping short of malfunctioning crossings or not stopping where required. It does so by warning the controlling engineer prior to enforcing braking as required. This system was designed to provide such protection in the unfortunate event an engineer has a medical emergency or loses consciousness while operating a moving train. ~ Elizabeth Olson, Dispatcher PTC Desk
What's the difference between an Engineer and a Conductor?
The Train Engineer is the crew member who operates/”drives” the train. The Conductor is in charge of the movement of the train. The Train Engineer cannot move the train without the Conductor’s permission. ~ Mark Chacon, Transportation Supervisor
Would the train run out of control if the engineer had a medical emergency and lost consciousness?
There are three layers of protection utilized by the railroad to prevent this from happening: an Alerter on the train, Automatic Train Stop (ATS) on the track, plus the new Positive Train Control (PTC) safety overlay. The Alerter is a button that must be pushed by the engineer every few seconds. If the engineer does not acknowledge the Alerter an alarm will sound and the breaks will automatically set. ATS is a safety measure on the track. When the train travels over it and there is a speed restriction or a signal that is not clear (Green), it activates the Alerter, which must be acknowledged by the engineer. Finally, the new PTC overlay will stop the train if an engineer does not acknowledge any type of restriction, such as speed, a stop, a crossing, signals, end of track or work zones on their onboard computer. ~ Matthew Stone, Operations Supervisor
Throughout Rail Safety Week we will be sharing important tips, facts, and resources across social media. Follow us and our partners at Operation Lifesaver to stay informed:
The Rio Metro Regional Transit District and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express have had a commitment to safety from day one. We believe that it is important to educate our passengers and the public about the importance of safety on and around the train and the tracks.
Developed by Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI), the rail safety and education nonprofit, Rail Safety Week takes place annually in September. Rio Metro is once again joining OLI and agencies across the United States, Canada, and Mexico to empower the general public to keep themselves safe near highway-rail grade crossings and railroad rights-of-way.