Preventing Hump Yard Horrors with Simulation Training

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Solid training is essential for railroad safety, that’s a given. And it’s not just the training itself that matters – it’s learner retention. Railroads are realizing they can greatly enhance their learner retention ratios by creating training experiences that employ simulations. And one place simulation training could figure prominently is in the Hump Yard.

Let’s explore the financial impact and injuries that occur in the Hump Yard, and how adopting simulation-led training could significantly lessen everyday dangers that railroad employees face.

Hump Yard Disconnects

Coupling and uncoupling cars sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing really is when one is working with moving tons of cargo, even at low speeds. In the Hump Yard, the “speed of the cars rolling down from the hump into the classification bowl must be regulated according to whether they are full or empty, heavy or light freight, varying number of axles, whether there are few or many cars on the classification tracks, and varying weather conditions, including temperature, wind speed and direction.”

The hump master or train master needs to know what is in each car to manage this successfully, of course, but sometimes this is overlooked. Cars that shouldn’t be humped should be clearly labeled, but anyone can become complacent over time, particularly when nothing awful happens – or when cargo damage stays below accepted levels.

To be clear, there really isn’t an “accepted level” for damage, but it does happen. The damage is undiscovered until cargo is unloaded and then a claim is filed. And without clear visualizations showing how small speed increases translate to cargo damage, these claims will continue unchecked. It’s an immediate cost savings railroads could be realizing.

And sometimes things are missed because the hump master feels pressured with deadlines and makes uncharacteristically rushed mistakes in an effort to get it done and out the door. And again, by staying under whatever accepted ratios for cargo damage, no harm, no foul.

But anything knowingly or otherwise that exceeds the regulated 4mph impacts in the hump yard puts not only the cargo in danger, but it puts lives in danger as well.

Hump Yard Cargo Concerns & Solutions

Preventing damage to cargo inside the cars is important, yet significant of damage occurs in the hump yard. This is largely due to staff not effectively communicating regarding internal impacts and the very good reasons for lessening them.

Non-flashy cargo, such as paper, can cause huge issues when humped at more than 4mph. It can shift and push against the end of the car, causing it to bulge and removing the space needed to use the handbrake wheel. Or lumber could shift up against the bulkhead of an adjoining car and smash it in. It can even fall off the cars.

But if equipment isn’t in top form there can be problems there too — even when everything else is done correctly.

Railroads take every precaution to ensure cars are in peak condition, performing maintenance and prepping cars on clean out tracks, but if a car’s draft gear is weak and cannot absorb the 4mph humping impact, cargo will be damaged regardless. There could also be misaligned couplers, where a worker attempts to couple cars on a curve instead of a tangent track and damage occurs, making the cars unsafe once underway, assuming they make it that far.

And each of these are scenarios where simulated training events can save railroads hundreds of thousands per year.

Simulation Training Savings

Having a simulation training available that shows switchmen and other workers the reasoning behind the 4mph limit, including what happens (sight unseen) to cargo inside the cars when hit at a higher rate of speed would drive home the need for slowing things down. Some examples could include:

  • Dangers of humping acid and other chemical tanks that do not have baffle plates to allow movement. Greatly enhancing that sloshing effect increases the risk of explosion when not handled properly, and no one want a chlorine cloud.
  • The humping of auto racks, which aren’t supposed to be humped and often are. Once every few days, you can find a pickup truck hanging out the back of the car.
  • Sideswipes that happen when a car runs into another a little too hard and causes it to stick out a bit. The next car coming down hits it, because it’s too close to the holding point. The car was cornered, and these incidences should really never occur.

And then, honestly auditing the time allotted for humping against the time it should take to hump a train, and providing the necessary timelines to do so, would create an entirely different environment in the hump yard. One that not only saves railroads from damaged cargo claims, but also saves lives.

Hump Yard Worker Safety Scenarios

There are many ways to properly secure and load tanks, as well as a variety of retarders to work with, including master and group retarders. There are guidelines as well — with that 4mph impact limit — for hump yard workers to adhere. But mistakes are one of the leading causes of injury or death – and it often comes down to situational awareness.

How does a railroads prepare a worker for the potential Hump Yard horrors that await if one is not 100% alert while working? Simulation training can be a literal lifesaver here. It can offer practice with dangerous and emergency scenarios to significantly enhance workers’ awareness of what could happen, from not seeing a cornered car and getting hit during the next car’s impact, to not being aware of who/what is on the track and potentially coming toward you from the opposite direction or hastily humping cars that just shouldn’t be humped!

The communication required to prevent this isn’t difficult, but it does require repeated practice to have every variable in mind and ensure everyone is aware of where everyone else is and has confidence in their coworkers’ commitment to doing things in the safest way possible.

And these are scenarios and practice exercises that can happen anytime, anywhere with simulation training.

Recognizing the ROI and safety value simulations offer, we’ve created training for BNSF, Amtrak, Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern, and more. Reach out and we can help you implement simulation training solutions in your Hump Yard or across your railroads to ensure the highest levels of safety and also, ROI.