Railroads are active corridors in North Carolina. With both passenger and freight trains running day and night throughout the state, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division created a program that helps prepare firefighters, rescue and EMS workers for the dangers they face when responding to an incident on or near a train.
The Need For Rail Safety Training
The BeRailSafe program puts first responders on train cars and locomotives for instruction and hands-on experience in fire and rescue efforts. Where rail access is not feasible, BeRailSafe brings the training to your department’s training room. The program also provides free education on rail safety and best practices in communities.
NCDOT’s Rail Division helps maintain more than 3,300 miles of track on which freight and passenger trains travel across the state. Through a federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the division is modernizing and expanding those miles of track along the Raleigh to Charlotte route by building 30 miles of second track and constructing bridges over and under the railroad. The projects will help to improve safety along the corridor, but there will still be train-related emergency incidents on the railways.
Since 1977, the Rail Division has focused on the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on North Carolina’s railroad through numerous programs, among them BeRailSafe. This program was created in 2010 following a train collision with a truck carrying heavy construction equipment resulting in a fiery derailment in Mebane, where firefighters and rescue/EMS responded quickly.
The division’s safety consultant Roger Smock trains hundreds of first responders to answer the call on the tracks. “Working with real locomotives and train cars better prepares fire, rescue and EMS personnel to respond to real life emergencies,” he said. “The more they know about our equipment, the more prepared and safer they’ll be when they respond to a train-related incident.”
BeRailSafe offers basic safety right-of way-information, such as always expect a train in any direction at any time, and wearing head and eye protection and steel-toed boots at all times on or near the tracks. But it’s making a real impact by offering more specialized safety training to protect everyone.
“We provide exposure unique to railroad equipment,” Smock added. “The goal is to limit inherent dangers to first responders, optimize patient care and create an environment that minimizes risks for all parties involved in railway incidents.”
From the perspective of train personnel, having fire, rescue and EMS ready to deal with injuries on or from a collision with such heavy equipment can be crucial.
Ted Gregory is an engineer of 11 years with CSXT and Canadian Pacific who now contracts with NCDOT as a Rail Design Engineer in the Design and Construction Branch. “Railroad equipment is unforgiving,” said Gregory. “When you have a 10,000-ton freight train moving at 50 mph impacting a passenger vehicle, rarely will the occupants of that vehicle walk away with mere scrapes and bruises.“The fortunate few trespassers who survive such a collision are usually left with life-threatening, critical injuries,” he adds. “When dealing with an on-scene accident, quick responses are necessary because most rail vehicle accidents are life threatening. So timing is of the essence.”
Earlier this year, Smock and BeRailSafe united with their partners at Amtrak to provide preparation for these types of incidents to nearly 50 fire, rescue and EMS responders in the Charlotte area.
Smock and Mike Stammel, who oversees Amtrak’s Emergency Preparedness for the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, tag teamed on that training. They presented the session on equipment used as a part of North Carolina’s Amtrak Piedmont service, which travels from Raleigh to Charlotte each day.
If anyone understands the need for first responder hands-on training, it’s Stammel. In addition to working 39 years for Amtrak, Stammel is a one-time fire chief and current firefighter/EMT of 43 years.
“Amtrak recognizes the value of providing knowledge and hands-on training to emergency responders should they ever have to respond to a passenger train emergency,” said Stammel. “The c, v, l, c, sand federal response agencies along with participating support organizations are to be commended for recognizing the need to preplan and respond to potential incidents.”
Stammel says working with BeRailSafe helps them further their safety goals. “The Amtrak Department of Emergency Management and Corporate Security provides classroom training along with hands-on training in the field and full-scale exercises for emergency response agencies around the country,” continues. “The training strengthens the safety for our passengers and provides awareness to the communities our trains travel through.”
Members of the Haw River, N.C. Fire Department in mutual aid response fighting a Piedmont Amtrak locomotive fire following a motor vehicle (truck-tractor trailer with excavator equipment) crash which occurred in Mebane, N.C. on 13 May 2010.
BeRailSafe training focuses on several areas:
BeRailSafe introduces fire, rescue and EMS personnel to important questions such as: Are you rail ready? Does your public safety department have a rail readiness plan? What does your plan include? Worst case scenario? Mass casualties or mass evacuation? What are you going to do? Who are your mutual aid partners?
It trains them to create plans that include: Emergency Response, Direction and Control, Assignments Responsibility as well as a Unified Command Plan —Fire, Police, EMS, Emergency Management, Red Cross, Public Works, Rail Carrier, NTSB, Federal Railroad Administration, hospitals, nursing facilities, schools, etc.
Rail Operations and Rail Nomenclature
The training helps fire, rescue and EMS personnel understand rail operations, the roles of conductors, engineers and others on the train. It also covers understanding the relationships and differences between freight and passenger services.
The course prompts personnel to introduce themselves to local railroad personnel. BeRailSafe also encourages firefighters, rescue and EMS personnel to ask local railroad personnel the following questions:
- What is the location of emergency equipment on the trains?
- Are there railroad terminals or rail yards and how do we respond?
- If so, do I know how to gain access?
- Are there bridges and trestles in their respective cities, counties or districts?
- Is there access for emergency vehicles on those structures?
- Are there environmentally sensitive areas in the city, county or district area?
Grade Crossing Identification
and Train Movement
Workshops help first responders identify rail grade crossings and document them through ground and overhead pictures, and knowing the locations and types of bridges or trestles in communities. It also teaches personnel ways to learn their emergency contacts, how active crossing signals operate and methods of stopping train movement.
eRailSafe Safety Consultant, Roger Smock (safety vest), instructs Sanford, N.C. FD members at the NCDOT Capital Yard facility.
Fire, rescue and EMS learn more about underground utilities, pipelines, electrical and situational awareness along the right of way that present additional first responder concerns.
BeRailSafe helps first responders consider the logistical and community concerns as it involves railroad cars and tracks.
Personal Safety of
Workshops teach personnel about electrical hazards and high pressure danger zones, train movements, and general safe practices on rail equipment.
BeRailSafe offers quarterly regional trainings taking train equipment to Charlotte, Spencer, Greensboro and Raleigh, if the number of registered personnel is sufficient. Any group of fire/rescue/EMS personnel can request training on the equipment at the NCDOT Rail Division facility in Raleigh provided that class sizes are adequate. Instructors are always ready to travel to your fire, rescue or EMS departments across the state to provide classroom training.
NCDOT also works closely with North Carolina Operation Lifesaver (NCOL), as they have some goals in common. Both work to equip first responders with what they need to perform their tasks on or near a train. BeRailSafe and NCOL will be pooling their resources to provide education, instruction and training.
“Emergency responders must make safe decisions around tracks and trains. Operation Lifesaver wants to help our emergency responders to be safe,” said NCOL Coordinator Vickie Miller. “NCOL also is pleased to partner with the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s BeRailSafe and we look forward to finding opportunities to help spread the word about rail safety.”
Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit that provides free rail safety education, understands that emergency responders also are important partners, especially in response to a collision scene.
NCDOT’s rail safety program works to foster additional partnerships with like-minded communities and industry and with state and local government stakeholders, public safety and rail industry stakeholders to serve all levels of rail related safety.
BeRailSafe looks to set the standard for rail safety training, safety awareness and education to private, transit-related and public safety groups, as well as the general public.
Smock, a retired N.C. state trooper, knows the importance of this training to all first responders. “There is no way to measure what such preparation is worth,” he said. “It helps first responders do what they do best - and that’s to save lives. Our first responders cannot do that if they become a victim. BeRailSafe wants to ensure that does not happen.”