• Engineer to Conductor Communications

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by ccie
Lately I've been listening in on the railroad frequency on my scanner during my morning commute on Caltrain. It ends up being very helpful when there are delays, since they tend not to announce much over the PA but you can hear everything that's going on on the radio. Anyhow, as I listen in I hear the engineer reading out the signals to the conductor. E.g., "Caltrain 277, advanced approach"... My understanding is that these are the signals the engineer is seeing ahead, and that they indicate at what speed he can operate the train.
My question is this. Why is the engineer giving these to the conductor? The conductor is in the back of the train, and would seem to have no involvement in the speed of the train. He's obviously not driving. What does it matter to him? My theory is it just keeps the conductor informed of what's going on for his own info, but it seems like a lot of chatter just for that. If any expert could enlighten me I'd appreciate it.
  by mtuandrew
Welcome, ccie!

The short answer to your question is that the conductor has responsibility for the train, even though he or she isn't actually controlling it. For a long answer, hopefully one of our veteran railroaders can enlighten us?

I'm also moving your post to the Railroad Operations forum for more visibility and topical relevance, but there'll be a link here. It's a good question, thanks for asking it!
  by Ocala Mike
Not a long answer. It's mandated by the FRA, and has been since the Silver Springs, Maryland wreck in 1996.
  by ccie
Well I had figured that it was mandated by someone, whether the feds or the railroad, but my question was why?

I did read the NTSB report on the accident you reference. It looks like the engineer, due to distractions, did not obey the signals. OK, how does reading off the signals to the conductor, who is in the back (on Caltrain this is typical), help with that? I suppose if the engineer read off a signal that restricted his speed to 30 mph, and the engineer looked out the window and noticed the train was doing seventy, then he provides an additional safety check. Maybe that's it. Of course, it wouldn't do much if the engineer missed a signal or read it incorrectly.
  by Ocala Mike
Two heads are better than one, and three heads are better than two. Think about what goes on with checklists in the cockpit of an airliner between piloyt and copilot; guess the thinking is that if an engineer "forgot" the aspect of a previous signal, the conductor would help him "remember" upon starting out again if communication is mandatory.
  by ExCon90
And the pilot and copilot at least have the advantage of being together in the cockpit. I think the point here is that the conductor, being back in the train, has no way of knowing what indication a signal is displaying unless the engineer calls it out. If the train passes a signal and the conductor doesn't hear the indication called out, he knows something's wrong; likewise, if the engineer calls out an indication requiring a speed reduction, and doesn't make the appropriate reduction, that should alert the conductor that some kind of action is needed, including pulling the air if that seems advisable.
  by MBTA F40PH-2C 1050
It all depends on which railroad rules you operate under. Under NORAC, the rule is 94, in non cab signaled territory, an Engineer must call back signals in which the next following signal may be a stop signal...(an Approach, Medium Approach, Slow Approach, Restricting, or Stop and Proceed aspect). Also the Delay in Block rule came into play following that Amtrak accident in Silver Springs.

If the signal is favorable in non cab signaled terriorty, we conductor's don't get nervous if we don't hear anything on the radio. It is only when one of those 5 signals mentioned above get called out over the radio that we must pay extra attention and make sure the engineer maintains the required speed, and if the speed is not maintained, it is our responsivbility to control the movement of the train...aka emergency brake application if needed
  by locked wheel
Another positive aspect of calling signal's is to alert other trains and track personnel in the area of your trains' location and (frequently) anticipated route. This can help engineers on affected trains to plan for meets and conserve momentum and fuel by 'pacing' their trains so as not to have to stop unnecessarily when meeting an opposing train with right of track. Also, in the event a signal is called that would suggest an improper action might occur [read: human error in calling correct signal indication or mechanical error in signal indication] then having it broadcast over the air to all who can hear increases the chance that someone will note any discrepancy and clarify the situation before an incident occurs.