FNW/FEVR/NRM Brakeman and Conductor’s Manual

Revision 1.1, 10/31/2003





Area between the rails is ‘no-man’s land’. This is where you are most likely to get hurt. Stay out unless you have something that has to be done, but always know how to get out quickly.

Expect the movement of trains on any track at any time in any direction. Look both ways before crossing tracks. Get in the habit even if you’re sure there is nothing moving.

When it doubt, the safe course MUST always be taken! Speed MUST be sacrificed for safety, no exceptions. If you don’t know, take it slow!

Be attentive and alert at all times to prevent accidents and injuries to yourself and others.

Report any accidents, injuries, or defects by the first means possible to the dispatcher or other appropriate railroad officials.

You must check the condition of the equipment used to perform your duties every day before start of work, and must not use any equipment found to be defective.

All crewmen in train or track service shall read all posted bulletins, notices, and train orders prior to start of work.

Never step on the rail. Rails have a slightly rounded head, and can be greasy or wet and are almost always slick. If you fall, the average sized guy will smack the other rail either with his face or back of the head, and the rail isn’t what will give.

Keep one thing in mind-railroad is always an inherently dangerous business. Puny little humans moving things that outweigh us by a few million pounds is what makes it dangerous. If you are hit, thrown, run over, or smashed, the engineer won’t even know you got hit, and chances are you’re dead. That simple. A little fear and a LOT of respect go a long ways towards keeping all your body parts.

Overview on Brakes:Air brake systems use the pressure in the trainline to hold off pressure in the main reservoir. If the trainline pressure goes below a certain point, air in the main reservoir will move into the brake cylinder and actuate the brakes. The AB (or triple) valve is the device on each car that balances pressures between trainline and reservoir. There is also a bleed rod that is used to bleed the main reservoir off. When this is done, there will be not brakes on the car. Hoses transfer the trainline between cars. Dynamiting the brakes is the term for rapidly releasing air from the trainline, causing the brakes to lock up. This can occur when the angle cocks are opened too quickly.

When the brakes are actuated, the piston on the brake cylinder moves out. This is a clear way to check if the brakes are actuating or not. Force is transferred through rigging to the brake shoes.

Air Brake System

Brake System on Rail Car

Brake Tests:A standing brake test must be done at each terminal when the train has stopped to pick up or set out cars, and initially when the train is made up. The test involves doing a set and release on the brakes, where the engineer will ‘set’ (release some air from the trainline to actuate the brakes). The brakeman’s job is to check the cars to make sure the brakes set. After this is confirmed, the engineer will do a ‘release’ (pump the trainline back up so the brakes release). The brakeman must then check to see the brakes are all released. Conductors should also follow applicable FRA guidelines with the EOT gage to determine proper air pressure at the end of their train.

Problems with Brakes:If the brakes do not set or release, the job is then to figure out why and correct the problem.

  • Angle cocks closed in the train are frequently the problem.
  • Hand brakes still on.
  • Sticking brake cylinders.
  • Sticking brake rigging.
  • Insufficient pressure to hold the brakes off.
  • Mechanical failure in the brake system.

Each hose has a gasket, which is subject to wearing out. This gasket can leak enough air to keep the back part of the train from building pressure. Don’t assume that all angle cocks are open either.

If the problem is mechanical and cannot be fixed by the crew, cut the car out on a siding. It can’t be moved until the problem is fixed.

Brakes in Cold Weather:Air pressure goes down, as air gets colder. In winter, the pressure built up at the back of a long train will be less than up front, and can be low enough that the brakes do not release properly at the back of the train. This will lead to dragging brakes on the train. Also, the lower pressure will make the brake cylinders actuate slowly.

Moisture in the train line will tend to settle in the brake cylinders, which is not a problem until winter. Then, the cylinders can freeze up and not actuate properly. This is particularly acute after the cars have set for a while.

It will take longer to pump up the train during winter than otherwise due to the cold and it’s effect on air pressure. There is little a brakeman can do to prevent dragging brakes during winter except to be aware of the problem. During brake tests, keep in mind that the pistons may actuate slowly.

Frequently, when the train is pumped up for the first time after sitting a while, the warmer air will eventually thaw out the cylinders, but it will take time. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to tap the body of the cylinder (not the piston shaft!) to get the piston freed. Do not use a large hammer for this, or anything else that will damage the cylinder.

Getting on/off moving equipment:Use your trailing foot only! This means as the car is coming towards you, use the foot away from the direction of travel. Get on/off ONLY when the speed and conditions are comfortable for you. Trust your instincts, if the train seems to be going too fast to get on, it probably is.

Keep your eye on where your foot and hands are going to go as the car comes towards you, then put up your foot and hook it into the ladder rung, grab the grab irons, get a good grip and get on.

Getting off, look to see where your foot is going to land. Don’t get off unless you can actually see the ground, otherwise there may be a big pothole waiting for you under the weeds. Drop down your trailing foot and hit ground with it, then release your grip. Move away from the train right away.

Why trailing foot?Using this foot uses the momentum of the train to help you pull you on. Getting off, you will spin away from the train, which means if you fall you’ll fall away from the train.

Over the ankle lace-up boots with a distinct heel are a must for brakemen. They will help keep your ankles intact, and the heel will hook over ladder rungs to keep you from slipping. Steel toes will also help in protecting your feet.

Always get on the front end of the car. Why? If you slip, you’ll spin around if you’re still holding onto the grab irons. On the front end, you’ll spin into the body of the car and bounce off, which will throw you away from the train. On the back end, you’ll spin right into the space between the cars and fall onto the track ahead of the oncoming wheels. Enough said?

Getting On Moving EquipmentGetting Off Moving Equipment

Riding and climbing on equipment:

1. Climb only on ladders that were obviously meant to climb on.

2. Ride and walk only on ladders, walkways and catwalks that were obviously meant to ride on.

  1. Ride on the side of the train that the engineer is on. This is in case your radio fails you will still be able to signal the engineer.
  2. UNLESS: there are close clearances or obstructions that are on that side. Always be aware of the places were clearance is tight; otherwise you’ll wind up smashed between the car and the obstruction. Trees-be aware of the places where trees are close, because they will wipe you off the side of the car.
  3. Long distance shoving of cars over grade crossings-safest place is actually the middle of the front of the car, if the car is equipped with a walkway there. The reason is, if a motorist hits the car, it’ll likely be hit on the side, and there is more clearance for you in the middle.
  4. Walking on top of cars:Legal only if there is no movement or potential of movement, and the car is equipped with a walkway on top. Nowadays, about the only cars so equipped are covered hoppers.
  5. Always have a firm handhold on a grab iron or railing at all times when moving around on moving equipment. Don’t let go even for a second. You can be thrown off in that moment.

Hand Signals:All brakemen, engineers, and conductors MUST know hand signals. The simple reason is radios can fail, and you must know how to signal the engineer.

Signals:Stop, ahead, back, car signs, slack/pin, stretch, easy, apply brakes, release brakes, going in-between cars to make air hoses.

When switching with hand signals, the engineer must stop if the brakeman giving signals goes out of sight. Keep this in mind, especially when switching through curves.

If there is any doubt as to the meaning of a signal, or for whom it is intended, it must be regarded as a stop signal.

NOTE:Directions for all railroad signals, whether hand or radio, are always based on the direction on the engine the engineer is in, not the actual direction of movement. All engines have a designated front end, and your directions have to match with this front end.

Radio Signals:

  • ‘Ahead.’Bring the train forward based on the direction of the locomotive.

NOTE:Engineers and Conductors should always refrain from using the phrase “go ahead” unless they are signaling the locomotive to move forward.

  • ‘Back up.’Back the train up (reverse) based on the direction of the locomotive.
  • ‘That’ll do’Bring train to a regular stop. Used at all times unless emergency.
  • ‘Stop.’Make an emergency stop. Technically, any time the word ‘stop’ is used in a signal indicates an emergency.
  • ‘One car’ ‘five cars’, etc.Distances to some action. Usually based on length of railroad car, around 50-60 feet per car.
  • ‘Making air’, ‘In for air’, etc.Going in between cars to connect air hoses. Make sure engineer acknowledges this signal.
  • ‘Clear crossing.’ Indicates that a road crossing is clear of traffic.

In radio, always include what you are doing when you signal the engineer. Say ‘ahead 5 to a joint’ or ‘back ‘em up 10 cars to the switch’, not just ahead or back up.

Also include a distance. The engineer must stop within half of the given distance if no other signals are given. Also, GCOR notes that engineers will not obey hand signals over radio signals given at the same time, unless the hand signal is a stop.

Throwing switches:Sounds easy, but can be dangerous. Tension is what holds the points in line, and that tension goes back to the switch stand.

  • Pull the switch handle up with an open hand. The handle can spring up and strike you, so let it do what it wants and stay out of the way.
  • Pull the handle to the new position; do not push it. If the switch sticks, the handle can spring back, and if you’re pushing it’ll hit you right in the gut. Brace your feet so you won’t fall backwards if the switch sticks.
  • Put the handle in and pin it-put the lock in, even if you don’t actually lock it.
  • Always, check for alignment on the points before signaling the engineer to move.
  • If there is dirt, or rock, or snow, etc, interfering with the points and keeping them from lining up, get a broom and sweep out the switch.

Hand Brakes:Always secure a cut with a hand brake. Hand brakes are always all on or all off, so crank them on hard. Number of cars that you will need to get a hand brake on is a function of the grade you’re on. When in doubt, get several cars worth.

When pulling a cut, make sure all hand brakes are off. If the chains are tight, the brakes are on. Release them by climbing up to the walkway by the hand brake and pulling the release lever. Make sure the chain drops.

Making Joints:

  • Give the engineer regular car signs. Remember, you are the engineer’s eyes when doing these moves.
  • When you’re about half-one car from the joint, get off the car you’re riding on and walk the rest of the way. Reason-if the joint is made hard; you may be thrown off the car and injured.
  • Make sure the couplers are aligned and open. If they are not, stop the move about one car away from the joint, let the engineer know what you’re doing, and go in to align and open the knuckles.
  • Make the joint.
  • Always do a stretch to make sure the joint is made. Don’t rely on the pins dropping to indicate the joint is made.
  • Let the engineer know you’re going in to make air and get acknowledgement that he knows what you’re doing.
  • When going in between, stay in a crouched position so that you can jump out quickly if needed. Expect the sudden movement of cars at any time. This is especially true if handling cushion underframe cars. Also, slack can run out at any time.
  • Make the air.
  • Climb over the equipment to open the angle cocks; don’t reach over the knuckles. Again, this is to keep you out of the area between the rails, and keep you from getting pinched should the cars move suddenly.
  • Open the angle cock slowly to keep from dynamiting the train. Tap it with the palm of your hand-this will keep you from throwing it too quickly.

Making Air Hoses

Pulling Joints:

  • First thing to do is to tie down the cut that you are uncoupling from. Get a handbrake on the proper number of cars.
  • Close the angle cock on the engine side to keep from blowing the air.
  • Signal the engineer to give you a pin or slack, which means back up enough that there is slack in the couplers. They cannot be opened otherwise.
  • Pull the uncoupling rod while standing off to the side, and see that the pins rise up into the coupler.
  • Signal the engineer to pull away (keep in mind this could be either forward or back depending on the direction of the engines).
  • When the couplers separate, make sure to turn your head away from the air hoses. When they separate, the blowing air will throw up rocks and dirt into your face otherwise.

Switching-general:The principle duty of a brakeman and conductor. You are the eyes for the engineer and direct all movements during switching. It is also where you are most likely to get hurt. The conductor/brakemen are in charge during switching, and the engineer must follow their directions. Signals, either by radio or by hand, are critical and must be clear.

Switching moves are like trying to solve a puzzle when you can only move in certain directions. Figuring out the most efficient and safe way to switch is the ultimate goal of conductors and brakemen. It takes time and experience to learn the best way to do switch moves, and cannot be taught in a class.

Part of being efficient is thinking of where you need to be during the next move. If you need to be at the back and you are currently at the front, then you don’t want to ride the cars if it will put you in the wrong place. Likewise, if you need to be at the rear, ride the rear to the next position. This saves time and walking.

No divided authority on switch moves. One brakeman is in charge of each move, and everyone needs to know who that person is. When sending a train down to another brakeman who will complete the move, make sure he knows he is in charge of that move. On the radio, say, ‘Your move, Al’ or something like that, and see that he acknowledges. Otherwise, inconsistent signals can be relayed, and this will lead to an accident.