• Hand signals!

  • 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 steam371
Hey, I'm a newbie (7 months on a switching railroad)!
where can I find a guide for hand signals?!, I've learned the basics, but some of the old hoggers and conductors, use some i've never seen before. Any help would be great!

  by clearblock
Here is a link that features an animated demo of hand signals:


  by SRS125
holding your arms strate out and flaping your hands up and down means slow down.

holding your arm out above your head makeing a fist is stop.

holding your right or left arm and rotateing your hand in a counter clock wise direction is a back up signal. Once in the deisred spot swing the same arm down across the body would be a stop signal.

There are several outher hand and body signals I don't rember them all thow.

These may be out dated hand signals but thats what I learned during my short time working on the railroad.
Last edited by SRS125 on Thu Mar 17, 2005 1:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

  by Aji-tater
SRS, you have no idea what you are talking about. Some of your posts are helpful and informative, thank you. But Please Please Please don't post something just for the sake of posting.

Holding your arms straight (strate?) out and flapping your hands up and down, in most places, means you're imitating a bird.

"Holding your are" - what does than mean? Assuming you meant arm, holding your ARM straight above your head means release brakes.

Holding your arm out and rotating your hand counter clockwise (or clockwise for that matter) is going to be pretty hard for an engineer 25 cars away to see - especially at night!!!

Steam 371, you say you have learned the basics, so you already know stop, forward, back up, apply brakes, and release brakes, and a few others. And although a newbie, you no doubt already are laughing at how some folks THINK they know railroading just because they post things on forums. But as for those more exotic signals, your best bet would be to ask the guys you work with. Why? Because customized signals vary from place to place. There are signals for numbers (track 4, for example). Cut, kick, in the clear, tie on a brake, house track, - there are lots of them, and some that may be specific to your own railroad and no place else.

Take just one example - asking for slack when you want to make a cut. Some places you raise both hands above your head, gradually bringing your palms together. Some places you take both fists and butt them together in front of you. I've seen this indicated by both thumbs sticking up. And at night, or at great distance, you may have to just raise your lantern in the air, and make a very slow "back up" or "come ahead" as the case may be. And there are probably many more. What may be an every-day signal on your railroad may mean something else - or nothing at all - on mine.

If in doubt, give a "stop" and make sure your whole crew is on the same page before you continue. It's no different that a quarterback calling a time out if his line does not have a good understanding of the next play. And boxcars are even more dangerous than a 350 pound tackle!

  by SteelWheels21
A few other things I've learned that may help you out:

---When you're running light power, ALWAYS USE HAND SIGNALS. Engineers get insulted when you use your radio for these moves.

---Some guys will use their unlit lanterns during daylight hours as a tool so the Engineer can see the signals better. However, the moment you switch that light on, you're using night signals. Know the difference and when they apply.

---Get with your crew, especially if you're working with someone you haven't before. As stated previously, guys who have worked in different places have different expectations. Some hoggers like car counts, some just like you to "ease 'em down". Some guys like more info, some less. Luckily most of the guys I work with here use basic hand/lamp signals, it's nothing too complex. We learned all those other ones that you never see and it's confusing after a while. Start basic. If you give the wrong signal, you'll know it either by the engineer's ignoring it or he'll come on the radio and tell you. If YOU'RE not sure of how to get a pin or a stretch, just ask on the radio and get with the hogger later on. You're allowed to be new as long as you're safe.

---Knowing HOW to give the signals is almost as important as giving the right ones. The speed at which you give a "come to me" or a "stop" conveys the urgency of the move to the Engineer. If you're bringing the power over a switch, give him a nice easy stopping motion. If you need him to come ahead or come to you, give him a nice wide slow arc. Don't wind him up with fast loops or you might get a harder joint than you expected. Remember, you are his eyes and how you give the signals and the confidence you project in doing so will go a long way to earning his trust.

---Finally, when you're on the point and you're hanging off the side a bit so the hogger can see your signals, be careful of how you end each signal. If you give him a "two count" but then allow your arm to drop down to your side, the last thing he's going to see is "Stop" (if he's paying attention). Any time you stick your arm out there to give a sign, bring it right back to you, don't let it drop to your body.

You'll get the hang of it after a while and then it will become second nature. Sometimes I will catch myself giving hand signals to my wife as she backs the truck into the driveway LOL. That's when you know you're a railroader, I guess.

  by PChap

I'm a newbie too and have experienced the same thing. I trained in 2 railyards before coming to work at my home terminal and each of these 3 yards have specific signals used at that yard. For example at one yard we gave a proceed signal for an engineer to kick a car, but at my home terminal we wave our switchlist in the air for him to kick. Have your crew go through an actual job briefing to make sure everyone is comfortable with the hand signals you'll be using. It'll only take a few minutes and everyone will be on the same page then.

  by SRS125
What can I say these were signals that I picked up off of former Conrail now CSX Emploees back when I was working on the rails. Like I had stated in my posting. I reported that these signals are most likley not being used anymore so need to get all tied up in a knot.

  by slotcanyoneer
Don't worry, SRS, in my opinion your descriptions for those signals seemed to be fairly accurate. I used signals signals similar to those when training on Guilford Rail System in Massachusetts.

  by Aji-tater
Well, I've heard some wacky things about Guilford but I still can't believe they use the signals you claim. The signals as prescribed in about every rule book for the last 100 years are standard. STOP has always been a motion parallel with the ground, at right angles to the track. The fist held in the air SRS describes is a CONSTRUCTION or CRANE signal for stop or hold, which is fine for those guys when you're looking at the fellow a few yards away. But it is NOT a standard railroad signal. (it COULD be a "localized" signal used in some place or other as agreed among a crew, after a "stop" is given, meaning "hold it there, I'm lacing them up") But it's sure not a regulation stop signal.

You kids have to realize these signals were used in the old days before radio, to do everything from making a hitch to whatever else. In most cases you'd have more men on the job (I'm not being sexist, but it used to be women were not found on train crews) so you'd spread out along the movement, especially if it went around a curve. You had to be where you could see the guy on either side of you, so the signal could be relayed. Often it was easier to ride the deck as there were less obstructions to interfere. And sometimes the fireman could watch out HIS window and call the signals across the cab.

But there were times the engine would have 50 cars and the hitch would be made with hand signals, by just the man at the joint. Do you think an engineer could see a fist at night from that distance? Or even in daylight?

One thing sure to get you yelled at would be giving "wrist signals". SRS says hold your arm out and rotate your hand...how far away do you think you can do that? 2 cars? 4 cars? The signal has to be adjusted for the length it has to carry. And the "back up" signal - a circle - may appear clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on which side you view it from - what's important is that it's a CIRCLE.

The original poster asked about some of the less "official" signals and perhaps in some cases you could find some of those gyrations like a bird or whatever. But they're sure not standard.

Linda Niemann was one of the first women brakemen on the SP, and has written several books and articles about the experience. In "Boomer" she says "These signals....were an art form. An old head could practically order an anchovy pizza from a half mile away".

Signals are no longer as widely relied on, and in some cases newer employees have come to rely on radios too much. I recall a crew coming on duty who were told the day's work was not yet ready, but to start they were to take the engine which had one car tied to it, and set the car into the siding which was the first switch, a few hundred yards ahead of them. It was broad daylight, and straight track, but the conductor had a fit and insisted on getting a radio to make the move. And it was not that he was deliberately dragging his feet, this guy just did not feel at home with hand signals because when he started, it was always with a radio.

  by Aji-tater
Here's a signal story, and I was the guilty party. It was about the second time I ever worked a train crew, and I was on a 5-man switching crew in a fairly large yard. At one point we were working in such a manner that the cut of cars we were switching was strung out along the lead and around some curves. I was to remain in sight of the engineer and relay the lantern signals from the foreman. After a few moves in this position I saw the foreman walking toward me.

"Just watch my lantern - do JUST what I do, nothing else!" he instructed, and turned and walked away. I still didn't know what I had done wrong, and as was often the case in those days he didn't bother to explain in detail. We went back to work, and I faithfully copied his every move.

It was later that I realized that a single circle told the engineer to back up. In my enthusiasm, I was adding a couple more, and at this place, multiple circles meant "kick". You can imagine the problems that had been making for the rest of the crew!

  by SRS125
A lot of what I went threw was all hands on training with only the basic hand signals. What I discribed was what I was taught in late 1999-late 2001 befor geting out of the field. There were taught to me by Ex CR guys sents Sperry Rail Service DOSE NOT PROVIDE RADIOS TO THE GUYS ON THE GROUND FOR DIRECT CONNECTION TO THE OPERATOR IN THE CAR OR TRUCK.

The makeing of a fist is a construction term yes.. but I have seen it used and it was an agreed meaning while on the track gangs and some yard crews mostley when the hich was being made directley behind the locomotive.

Even the simple rotation of the hand was seen as a back up move only when the guy on the ground was visable but as soon as his hand droped that was seen as an automatic stop signal.

Flaping the hands was used only when the head end of the locomotive was moveing threw an area where the rails were barely visable or if a crossing was rilly pluged up with dirt and outher stuff. YES it confused me becouse its not in the text book somwheres along the line somebody inveneted it and is became a common signals for slow down a bit. I saw to be a common one that I saw while working on Conrail and later CSX mosley in New York and Quebec.

I would have to think that not all the horn/Buzzer signals are used or are the same eather. But here were some crazy signals that are not even in the hand book as far as I know.

o meaning short = meaing long.

o stop
oo forward
ooo backup
oooo hold Sclected speed once reached (used when going in reverse)
o== Aproching or Parked railcar or locomotive on siding
===== Emergency Stop

These were horn/Buzzer signals that I had to learn while working in maintaince along with the goofy hand signals in which everyone clamed did not fit in. I know that a lot of these signals are not even used or are found in the books but Its not to say that an old old timer may not use them or even some odd ball short line or maintaince crew as well. I guess its hard to make the point that old habbits don't die easy or the lost art of hand signals went the way of the doo doo with the advent of the radio.

I may sound nuts but this is what I was trained with in my first 3 months of training but as all gos this I guess would give an alarming attention on how diffrent the training is between diffrent companys and there operations.

  by SnoozerZ49
When I started out I watched every signal trying to catch on. I thought I was doing pretty good when I saw the engineer come out of the cab and start to make a circular motion on his belly. Oh no, I had no idea what he meant. I made sure I was ready to get chewed out again when I went up to him and told him I didn't understand the motion, rubbing his belly in a circular motion. He chuckled and said, that means let's break for beans! I never forgot that motion!

  by Avro Arrow
I don't understand why anyone would use hand signals when you have a radio

  by jg greenwood
Avro Arrow wrote:I don't understand why anyone would use hand signals when you have a radio
To minimize radio traffic would be one very good reason. Nothing is more agravating than to be down to a car length making a joint and have someone walk on you while their making a move with a lite-engine! Good, accurate hand-signals has become another lost-art of railroading.
Last edited by jg greenwood on Sun Mar 27, 2005 8:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by CSX ENG
Give me hand signs any day!!!