They are big, lumbering, and can’t stop on a dime. And yet, in many cities around the world we mix them in with cars, trucks, buses, bikes, pedestrians and any other form of transportation. The “they” I’m referring to are rail vehicles, whether they be light rail, street car, trolley or commuter train.
In our business, we spend a lot of time teaching railroad. We have to. In today’s densely populated communities, few train systems get exclusive right of way, making an emphasis on safety paramount.
We make sure our operators and engineers understand signals, switches, grade crossings, derails, diamonds and frogs. We make sure they know the meaning of “high ball” and “line dragger.”
But there is more, much more, that we can do. How much time, for example, do we spend making sure they understand “Aim high in steering,” and “Leave yourself an out”?
Obviously, a lot is going to depend on individual factors such as traffic signal timing and design, signage, street markings, lighting, obstructions, interactivity (the relationship between people, cars and the alignment), and many other considerations unique to your system.
The good news is, yes, there are steps you can take from a training standpoint to help operators mitigate the possibility of what will statistically happen to each of them — a collision.
Know Your Turf
The first, and most obvious, is talk to those who do it everyday and see what they are doing right.
Operators with good operating records love to tell you what works for them. They know that at 4:44 p.m. the sun is going to reflect off the glass door of the bank across the street causing the traffic signal for cross traffic to not be visible for 1 minute and 30 seconds. During that period, there is a 92.4 percent likelihood that one or more cars are going to run through a red light.
Use that! Build it into your training program. That is great information that may save your authority countless hours of system service recovery time.
If you are a new system, the best advice is to know your system. Spend all the time you need to become intimately familiar with traffic patterns, people patterns, weather patterns, operator patterns and signal patterns.
The key word here is patterns. Know what vehicle drivers do when the train is not there. That is the best indicator of what drivers will do when the train is there. It will help you anticipate. It turns out, the majority of people do the same things at the same locations all the time.
When Metro starts a new class of rail operators, we walk the entire length of the alignment (in segments) to let them get a good look at how things operate when trains are, and are not in the area.
This is an opportunity to point out things like the sun reflecting off the bank glass door, and trees that could block signs, and traffic signal lights that disappear when the wind is blowing. We show them what an intersection looks like from a cross-traffic perspective so they understand what a car driver is looking at as they approach a crossing or intersection. In short, we give them the opportunity to “get the big picture.”
The Smith System
In the classroom, we teach a version of the Smith System. We drill into them the five keys of the Smith System:
- Aim high in steering.
- Get the big picture.
- Keep your eyes moving.
- Leave yourself an out.
- Make sure they see you.
Each operator gets a laminated card imprinted with these five keys. When they are operating a train in training, they are required on some trips to verbalize the things they see around them using the Smith System philosophy. As they operate, they have to tell the instructor that they see a bicyclist approaching the track from the left, there is a pedestrian running toward the train from the right, there is small child on the platform, there is a car sticking out over the limit line, and so on. They have to do the same on their certification run, as well as when they go through recertification. This helps them use it as a tool in daily operation.