In flat switching, railcars are diverted to the proper track to make up a train by one of two methods, either by “manually kicking” or “shoving to couple.” When railcars are “kicked,” they are uncoupled from the switching locomotive while in motion, allowed to roll freely, and are expected to couple with the other railcars upon impact with the new train. When railcars are shoved to couple, they are not uncoupled from the switching locomotive until they have already coupled with and are secured to the new consist.
Through investigations of one of the six fatalities, FRA identified switching yard characteristics “that may increase the risks of unsecured rail equipment rolling back onto an employee if an irregular grade is present in a flat switching yard.”
During kicking operations, employees “are at greater risk if the rail car doesn’t couple securely with other railcars already resting on the destination track,” FRA said.
“Kicking railcars is efficient but it can also have significant consequences if rail carriers don’t have operating rules to safeguard employees to ensure that kicked rail cars are securely coupled,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Where there is risk of a rollback, shoving to couple provides absolute certitude.”
In 2010, FRA released recommendations developed by the Switching Operations Fatality Analysis Working Group (SOFA) that have been adopted by individual railroads in their operating rules. The Safety Advisory, 2013-03, warns railroad management and employees about the inherent dangers of employee movements between unsecured rolling railcars. It advises railroads to review and follow SOFA recommendations previously set forth in an FRA 2011 Safety Advisory and, where conditions exist, to develop operating rules that safeguard employees, and advises employees to follow the rules.
To learn more about Safety Advisory 2013-03, CLICK HERE.