Railroad engineer

Railroad engineer

A railroad engineer, railway engineer, locomotive engineer, train operator, train driver or engine driver is a person who operates a railroad locomotive and train. The engineer is the person in charge of and responsible for the locomotive(s). He or she is also in charge of the mechanical operation of the train, the speed of the train and all train handling. The engineer shares with the conductor/guard, who is in charge of the train, responsibility for the safe operation of the train and application of the rules and procedures of the railway company.

On many railroads, the career progression is one that starts as an assistant conductor (brakeman), conductor and finally, engineer. In the United States the engineer is required to be certified and re-certified every 2-3 years. [cite web| url=http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/49cfr240_03.html| title=2003 CFR Title 49, Volume 4; Part 240: Qualification and Certification of Locomotive Engineers| publisher=United States National Archives and Records Administration| work=Code of Federal Regulations| accessdate=2007-11-14| ]

In India, an engine driver begins his or her career as a "Diesel Assistant" or "Electrical Assistant" (in case of electric locomotives). He/she would then get promoted on a scale B,A and A Special. 'A Special' Drivers drive one of the fastest and important trains on the route. [cite web| url=http://www.irfca.org/faq/faq-ops.html#crew| title=Train Crew| publisher=Indian Railways Fan Club| work=FAQ: Railway Operations| date=2007| accessdate=2007-11-14| ]

In New Zealand, parts of Australia, the United States and Canada 'Train Drivers' are known as 'Locomotive Engineers'. In other parts of Australia they are known as 'Locomotive Operators' or 'Locomotive Drivers'.


An engineer is responsible for preparing equipment for service, checking paperwork and the condition of the locomotives. His/her duties require that he/she control acceleration, braking and handling of the train underway. He/she must know the physical characteristics of the railroad, including passenger stations, the incline and decline of the right-of-way and speed limits. Along with the conductor, the engineer monitors time to not fall behind schedule, nor leave stations early. The train's speed must be reduced when following other trains, approaching route diversions, or regulating time over road to avoid arriving too early. The engineer assumes the duties of the conductor if he or she should be incapacitated.

The locomotive engineer is required to have an intimate knowledge of track geometry including signal placement so as to be able to safely control their train.

Maintaining concentration is of critical importance in this role.

Train handling

Train dynamics can be extreme and therefore an engineer must be familiar with train handling techniques so as to avoid train partings, derailments and to not exceeding line speed.

Locomotive-hauled freight trains typically have different train forces to passenger trains. A typical freight train may have 500 tonnes of Locomotive weight at the front. That may be followed by 1500m of wagons. The wagons may or may not be uniformly loaded. The wagons may brake differently to each other accordingly.

Severe brake applications can combine with these factors to cause a train parting. Therefore good train handling practice for freight trains usually consists of keeping the consist stretched. This is achieved by keeping the consist in power while a break application is made and by bleeding the air off the locomotives brakes before they apply. It is not possible to do this with the use of dynamic brake, which presents its own train handling challenges.

When there are many locomotives in the consist, some may be set up to brake like wagons instead of locomotives, as too many locomotives on the front of the consist (all with brakes bled off) would require too heavy an application from the rest of the consist.

On passenger trains which are typically shorter this is even more noticeable, requiring the first application of the brake to be bled off on the locomotive and then to allow the locomotive brakes to apply with subsequent increases in the application. The length and make up of the consist dictates just how much locomotive brake application should be allowed to apply.

The use of dynamic brake can result in a severe slack action, When engaged run in is highly possible if brought in at an inappropriate time (regarding track geometry and train speed) and if disengaged at an inappropriate time can result in a run out. Both can potentially snap train drawgear.

Straightlining is a potential cause of derailment that train handling techniques must take into account in order to reduce the likelihood of occurrence. When a Train rounds a curve basic physics dictates the trailing wagons in the consist will try to take the shortest route and the flange on some of the wheels within the consist could potentially fail to prevent this occurring with the resultant effect being a derailment.

Track geometry is also critical to train handling. It is desirable to have brakes releasing at the bottom of steep grades rather than applied. And at the top of a steep grade it is desirable to have a fully charged brake pipe.

Serial braking is where a train descends a grade on the air brake alone. The brake pipe application is gradually increased to slow down and if required (depending on the weight of the consist and on the grade) stop the train so as to allow the locomotive compressors to recharge the brake pipe throughout the consist. In these cases it is permissible to utilise the locomotive brakes (which are independent of the train brake and charged through the main reservoir directly) to hold the train (In some cases the weight of the trailing consist will not be held on the locomotive brakes alone) slowing the rate of acceleration and giving more time to recharge the brake pipe to give a better application in the next subsequent train brake application. A runaway can occur if a brake application is required before the train pipe has recharged (as happened at Sima Hill in the United States).

A split reduction is where a Train brake application is made and gradually increased as the train descends the grade. It is different to serial braking in that with Serial Braking the application is released, the brake pipe recharged then reapplied.

The dynamic brake when operable slows down the rate of acceleration and allows longer for a train brake pipe to be recharged before being required to be re applied. When a train descends a grade utilising both the dynamic and air brakes the procedure is known as 'maintaining braking'.

In the case of severe grades (for example the Westmere Bank in New Zealand which is a 1:33 grade with a 40km/h speed limit) a trains allowable speed is lower for a train that doesn't have dynamic brake than for one that does.

In freight train marshalling yards the wagon brakes are sometimes bled off so they can be easily loose shunted. However when a shunt loco moves large numbers of wagons around with no brakes the locomotive must brake for the entire consist. This can result in severe slack action and wheel slip. Damage to goods and rolling stock is possible. Also, with unbraked wagons there is potential for a runaway.

Famous railroad engineers

* Casey Jones
* John Axon (UK)
* Wallace Oakes


External links

* [http://www.railwayregister.care4free.net/becoming_a_train_driver.htm A detailed explanation of what train driving involves, and becoming a train driver in the UK]
* [http://www.runalocomotive.com Run-A-Locomotive.] Link to a site that offers an engineer experience program at a museum in California.

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