Railfan safety It is all our business

Jim Wiggin Jun 9, 2006

  1. Jim Wiggin

    Jim Wiggin Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Recently Hemiadded asked if I could start a post about railfan safety. With the warmer tempretures our thoughts have brought us trackside and wanting to see prototype trains in action. Although these tips have been posted before, they are important to remember and we all can use some reminders. Recently a post came up about railfans on guard, BNSF is asking railfans to register into a data base. You can read more about it and even sign up if you like herehttp://www.trainboard.com/grapevine/showthread.php?t=77844

    Before you head out trackside here are a few friendly reminders, some of which are from friends of mine who work for the railroads.

    1. Don't tresspass! It sounds simple but as modelers we sometimes let our curosity get the best of us. "What is that, I'll get closer, I need a better picture." Not only are you tresspassing, you may hurt yourself or those with you. Not to long ago I was riding the cab of a newly re-shoped SD10. The engineer and I was having a nice conversation as this day we were on a branch line and away from grade crossings. About the same time, our eyes locked ahead to see a group of pre-teen kids playing around a plate bridge. The engineer blew the horn but both of us had a tight knot in our stomachs. These kids were way to close to the tracks, they ended up running away, but I realized why some engineers get just a little nervous.
    More to come........
  2. Jim Wiggin

    Jim Wiggin Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    To add on to the first post. I have a lot of riends who come up to railfan the C&I of the BNSF. This former CB&Q line has a lot of neat towns and scenery on it and lends well to the camera and modelers.

    I often joke here on the board about "Jessica" the railfan Jeep, but seriously she is outfitted for railfaning in more ways than one, mostly with safety gear.

    Inside the little Jeep is a host of items that enhance the railfan experiance as well as keep us safe. Here is a list of items on board and the purpose of each one.

    1. Cell phone: Yes even this device that irritates me to no end is included, but for a specific purpose. Should you get hurt, see an accident or see property damage you can call the proper authorities. As we read in the BNSF forum, someone saw two men jump out of their pick-up truck and throw stones at a freight train attemting to break something. The railfan took pictures, got plate numbers and sent the film to the authrorities. Cell phones do not even have to be activated for 911 use, so even if you despise the device, keep a fully charged one in your car at all times.
    2. Scanner: Sounds simple but this too can be a safety device. Jessica has a scanner built into her now with an on-board loud speaker that can project the scanner volume outside the Jeep. This is good for when you are setting up that shot and can keep tabs on the dispatch, MOW and trains. I have had many MOW guys stop by and when they see I have something similar to what their trucks have, they know that I'm aware of my surroundings. They will ask too, if you have the current frequencies sometimes, socheck the web and some of the books available for scanner frequencies to make sure your updated. Also for the area where we railfan, there are not a lot of grade crossings, so the engines will typically not signal, and scince they are not expecting you will not sound the horn. Yet another reason not to stand to close to the ROW.
    3. The antenna is out of sight but is a boost antenna that can be found at Radio Shack, these are important where it is hilly and if you use a hand held will work better than the little antenna supplied when you bought the scanner.
    4. Maps: Maps are important too, I have one a truckers atlas for roads and a RR map I bought from a book shop at a train show. I made copies of the map pages of the areas I railfan and started jogging down notes as to MP locations, good spots for camera set up and scenic locations. This helps with finding the perfect shot when they run a special train. It also works good if you are in a place you have never railfanned before. Google Maps is good for those areas not commonly found on the truckers atlas.
    5. First Aid Kit: Every car, truck, minivan ect should have one of these, the locomotives we take pictures of do! You should keep a good inventory of items that may be needed in your area, bug sting/bite sticks, snake bite kite, bandages, cold pack, antiseptics, alcohol wipes etc. Jessica has a kit that fits under the seat. I also included red and amber glow sticks that can be used if I get a flat or break down at dusk, these sticks will last up to 8 hours and help out in the visibility if something should happen along the road. Of coarse if you should stall on tracks, get out and call the number found at every grade crossing. This number is for just this purpose. I have heard on my scanner more than once that a stalled car or tractor was on the mainline and traffic had to wait until the vehicle was removed.
    6. Water: You would be surprised how many don't think of this, and it is very important even here in the Midwest the temps can get high. Soda and coffie dehydrate you, so put some water in a small cooler and drink often in warmer weather.
    7. Bug Spray: Kind of a given but with all the West Nile going on and the places we go this should be standard.
    8. Footwear: What? What do you mean footwear? Simple, the places we traverse are rocky and in the few times I have been given access to the yard, proper footwear was essential. If I know I will not be going into the industrial part of the railroad, yards and such I will wear sandels, but if it is for a pre-arranged photo op and it is on RR property, boots are the shoe of the day. Forget sneakers, they offer only a little more protection than your barefeet. If your idea is to just take pictures trackside at Rochelle or in a park, be my guest go barefoot at your own risk, but never go into an industrial area without proper clothes and footwear and yes eyewear. Sound over cautious and overbearing? Try the rest of your life without an eye or toe, I know people who this has happened to!
    9. Attitude: Last but not least, you want to have fun, get pics of that new heritage unit but you maybe asked by a rr employee or a local police officer as to what you are doing. Talk to them in a pleasent manner, show them what you are doing, bring magazines to show them that you are a railroad enthusiast taking pictures or just watching trains. In my experience, 90% they will tell you to carry on and be carefull. If they do ask you to move on, do so immediatly and without lip, rr police have juristiction where ever their home road goes. If you are on private property and get approached they cannot arrest you, no more than a cop can arrest you for taking pictures of an airplane from your yard. If you are under 18, have the RR Bull or Police officer call your parents to settle things. In all cases I usally bow out graciously and come back another day. Remember these men and women are just doing their jobs and some are more wound up than others, respect them.

    So here are just a few guidlines, by all means this is not a one man post, so if you have things to add, by all means post. We all learn from each other! Keep safe out there!
  3. sd70mac

    sd70mac TrainBoard Member

    Good stuff. Someone sticky it, please.
  4. tom huffman

    tom huffman TrainBoard Member

    also if you see a railcar in a yard be sure to ask permission to enter. after all it never hurts to ask. and while crossing tracks on foot be sure to keep your head moving at all times and DO NOT step on the head of the rail.

    be safe

  5. THarms77

    THarms77 TrainBoard Member

    Railfanning with BNSF7173

    I recently went railfanning with BNSF7173 & BNSF7371. It was the first time I have ever gone railfanning. It was a TOTAL blast!!! He knows what he's talking about. The jeep is sweet. Nothing better than cruising on a summer day in a jeep, seeing lots of trains, & getting some nice shots.

    One thing I would add about railfanning safety. You can get some good pictures with dark clouds around but beware of the lightning. We were near overhead high voltage wires. Everytime it lightninged, the wires sizzled. Kinda freeky.

    Looking forward to going again soon!!!

    Tim (BNSF7173 bro-in-law)
  6. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Excellent topic, Jim!!!

    For you 'flatlanders' that haven't been out west, there's some more preparation you should do before heading out:

    Weather in the mountains can change rapidly,a nd rapidly deteriorate. Snows in July are not uncommon! That said, bring warm boots, jacket, stocking cap, etc, JUST IN CASE!
    Also, tire chains and a shovel are good items to have.
    While out west, you notice towns are few, and very far apart. In a winter storm, if you have car trouble, and you are unprepared, you can DIE. It's that simple.
    Hence, bring warm clothes. Yes, I already covered that--but if you are like me, and like to hike a few miles into the bush to get good shots, pack in a good jacket, and wear insulated boots. Dehydrating in winter is as much/if not worse a problem out west--you'll be exerting yourself, working up a good sweat, dehydrating yourself. Bring/drink water in your hikes!
    Anothr point to hit on, since I am preaching safety, is food. Always be prepared! Should you be out, and get stuck in a ditch in the middle of n-o-w-h-e-r-e, no cell phone reception, and it's getting dark, your concern shouldn't be getting out, it should be fueling up. Winter or summer, carry energy foods in your vehicle. Military surplus stores sometimes have MRE's *meal, ready to eat*--these are fantastic--TONS of calories, carbs and fat to help keep you going, and they will keep for YEARS. They are fully sealed, and if ou use the magnesium heaters (just add water), will make a HOT dinner for you in minutes. Always carry one in your backpack, when hiking--and several in the car!!!

    OK, now that I have beat a dead horse to death again, let's get back your situation. You's alone in the boonies, 75 miles from any appreciable populated area, stuck in the mud, with a flat tire. No jack, so you cannot change the tire. You have no cell phone, or it is inop thanks to no signal (typical), it's getting dark,a nd you are hungry and thirsty. You have a pack of gum in the car, and that's it. No water, no food, and it's gonna be a long nite. First thing, whether or not you like it, stay with the vehicle!!! Rescuers will have a much easier time finding you, if you stay in your car. Sure, you may be able to walk the 26 miles to the highway, but what's the guarantee you won't get picked off by a bear or mountain lion? Granted, this is an extreme situation, but the west has critters. Lots and dangerous ones too. Snakes, bears, 'cats, and insects out the wazoo. Black flies, and skeeters will eat you alive in some spots, epecially in the plains states.
    So, stay in the car. Another thing to bring is a sleeping bag. You can buy a sleeping bagthat will reflect your own body heat,a nd be storable in a back pocket--it's called a space bag. They are lined with aluminum foil! A jack is a common-sense item, but many folks don't have the jack to use to swap out a flat. Shovel and axe or a hatchet are handy, if you are stuck in mud/snow. Shovel is self-explanatory, but an axe/hatchet can be used to down some tree limbs to stuff under traction-deficient tires, an could be the boost to get you going again.
    Candles, waterproof, stike-anywhere matches are a must-have. A small coffee/fruit can can be used to hold the candle,a nd contain dripping wax. A knife or an all-purpose tool is also handy.
    Signal mirrors and whistles--they seem like common hiker items, but if you keep them in the car, you could use them to signal help!
    Last, and optional, a firearm. Yes, a gun. You never know out west if a bear might attack. When I hike, I carry a loaded pistol--depending on my locale, I load shotshells for frisky rattlers, or big-game loads for bears and 'cats. Don't get me wrong--I am a hunter, but I do not condone shooting innocent animals for fun. If I have to pull the trigger, it's because my or someone else's life or safety are in jeopardy. You do what you have to do, to survive int he mountains.

    Now, that I thoroughly bored you to sleep, I'll leave you with this:
    BE PREPARED--it could save your life.
  7. Jim Wiggin

    Jim Wiggin Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Excellent Hemi! :thumbs_up:
  8. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Sounds like a good idea. :thumbs_up: Have done so.


    Boxcab E50
  9. sd70mac

    sd70mac TrainBoard Member

    Thanks Boxcab. I intend to refer to this from time to time before I head out.

    Oh, and someone mentioned food. While MREs are an excellent idea, something like Clif Bars have worked for me to get some extra calories in me when I am exerting myself beyond what I typically do in a day. They eat like a candy bar.
  10. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Oh, I think I forgot something..

    Bug repellant!
    I use Muskol, nearlyt he strongest stuff ont he market--100% DEET. Don't put DEET directly on a baby's skin, and sparingly on your own. I use it on my pantlegs, shirt, hat, etc. to keep skeeters, ticks, chiggers, etc off me. There any many formulations of childeren's bug repellant in the market today, use them, that are safer. Use the stronger stuff for your clothes.

    Thanks for the sticky, Ken!
  11. slambo

    slambo TrainBoard Member

    Two items I always bring are a box of trash bags and a roll of paper towels. Just like the boy scout hikes, pack out your trash and pick up other trash you see at the campsite. In addition to using the paper towels to clean things off, they can become a handy way to hold onto something that's gotten quite hot or greasy (like if you need to do something in the engine compartment; hey, breakdowns happen!). If I can manage it, a box of quart sized baggies go in the truck too.

    Finally, I always bring along a notepad and several pens. There's always something that I need to write down, be it a map of an area or directions or loco and train numbers for my photo documentation.
  12. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Good one!
    Another useful item is Toilet paper. I put a fresh roll into a large ziplock bag, and stuff it under the seat. You never know when nature will call....
  13. stewarttrains98

    stewarttrains98 TrainBoard Member

    Well here in the south, we dont quite need all the gear that you mentioned. But I do have my scanner set up with internal and external speakers. On my scanner I have all the rr channels at the puch of a button. I have also the ones I go by all the time on a seperate bank. I do recomend that you buy an Atlas and Gazateer type atlas for you state. They show every thing in detail and they are about $20 per state and get one for every state you railfan in.

    As for the clothes, I always wear jeans and tee shirts, and if out side most of the time a hat and sunglasses. Depending on the heat, maybe no hat. But I do have a cooler I keep in the truck in the summer for the water.

    One thing nobody mentioned is that you may want to have a cb radio in the event of an emaergency and you dont have any signal on the cell phone. I have one set up in my truck. As many of us know that our favorite part of a certain rr line is where no cell signal is, or very poor signal.
  14. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Never had a CB... But, that's what this topic is all about! Keep the info coming!
    Atlas/Gazetteers are the best tools for railfanning that you can get at just about any store. Granted, there are better RR-specific maps, but they are not as easy to find.
    They are also handy for finding alternate routes thru dirt roads, etc.
  15. friscobob

    friscobob Staff Member

    I've been railfanning with Hemi- he practices what he preaches. It started out cool on Sherman Hill, but did warm op- for an hour or so, then clouds moved in & down went the temps. And at 8000-plus feet, you can really tell. I also like the idea of beef jerky, energy bars, water, etc. to snack on- tasted great up there near Dale Jct, IIRC!

    Of course, if you choose to do you fanning at places like Rochelle or Saginaw, you may not need to go to the extreme on survival gear, but it's still a good idea to have a cell phone handy, plus all those tools & spare tire in your vehicle (and that first-aid kit) even in these areas.
  16. stewarttrains98

    stewarttrains98 TrainBoard Member

    I do agree that you are need to be prepared for the area that you railfan. Here in the south, we dont really need all the outdoor gear. But you may need the bug spray, sun-block and maybe sun glasses. I do know that you need water in the spring, summer and early fall. In the winter you need the chapstick. But I always check the weather on the puter b4 I head out. The beef jerky, energy bars, water, etc. to snack on is something I think that would be a great thing to have where ever you go or are located at. But regardless of our locations, we all ahve our certain things that we take or have with us. There is one thing that nobody has mentioned yet, what about the handy tire plugs that you can use to plug that flat or going flat tire from that dang screw you picked up that the place you thought looked bad when you turned around after getting that great shot. Nothing is worse to me than getting a flat or having a tire go flat when you need to be on down the road chasing that train.
  17. Schomy

    Schomy New Member

    The best peice of advice I can give tell someone where your going
  18. BugNerd

    BugNerd TrainBoard Member

    How do you find a train yard in your area? And how do you find someone to ask if you want to get a bit closer?

    I haven't been around many train operations....except for being one of those stupid kids too close to the track years ago...oops! Sorry to all you engineers out there; I know better now.
  19. alxmoss0609

    alxmoss0609 TrainBoard Member

    I love your License plate on the front
  20. Doug A.

    Doug A. TrainBoard Supporter

    What, you can't sniff out train yards using only your nose? :teeth:

    To find a yard, assuming you have no earthly idea where to start, I would go to the Yellow Pages (either the ole-fashion kind or online) and look up the "Railroads". There you should see the railroad companies in the area and their physical address. This may be a (misleading) sales office but often it offer clues about where the tracks are. Take the address and plug it into Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, Local.Live.com, Mapquest, etc. You should see tracks and possibly a yard. Otherwise just follow the tracks around and see if a yard-looking area appears. If the railroad detail is lacking, look on the map for a big football shape void of streets in the middle of town.

    As far as who to ask, well usually there's nobody to ask about getting "closer". Railroads, especially the large ones, aren't in the business of accomodating you, and trespassing is illegal. There are exceptions though, and even if you are on public property it doesn't hurt to let the local yard office know you're gonna be in the area. A yard office should be publicly accessible, at least one parking area should be. You may find it locked up or nobody around and if so you should just leave...stepping outside the boundaries of the parking lot would be trespassing in most cases.

    Some railroads will give you some leeway, especially if it's a "slow day" and if you look like a decent person and not somebody that just knocked off a liquor store. Smaller railroads are usually friendlier as well. The key is just don't try to pull one over on them...be honest, communicate why you are there, etc. And don't be surprised if the answer is no. (and with some railroaders, it might be H#!! no, get your @$$ out of here!) If they do say no, thank them and I'd recommend just moving on to another area, just in case the railroad police don't have anything better to do than argue whether you have the right to take photos from public property.

    I've been to some offices where they've let me walk around their engine terminal as long as I stayed away from the tracks, away from the equipment, and generally out of the way. One railroad allowed me to walk their yard access road after I explained I wanted photos of specific cars for a project I was working on. They had me sign in and out and wear protective gear, but otherwise were accomodating. But that's way out of the norm, and especially if you are younger I'm not sure that is gonna be an option. Frankly I was shocked (but appreciative) to be allowed to do those things. And these were both shortlines.

    One option everyone has is historical societies. Most of these have conventions at least once a year, and they often include yard tours or other tours of railroad-related facilities. NMRA conventions also do things like that. The Friends of the Burlington Northern, for example, has had tours in recent years of Alliance Yard (TX), Alliance, NE Engine Facilities, Crawford Hill, Allouez Tac-Transfer facility, Midwest Energy coal dumper, BNSF Headquarters, Denver Yard, and many many other similar tours.

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