SOFA Working Group reminds rail workers to remain vigilant in summer months

The Switching Operations Fatality Awareness (SOFA) Working Group is urging railroad workers engaged in switching operations to stay vigilant in the coming weeks. Forty-seven switching fatalities have occurred since 1992 in the months of June, July, and August.

The SOFA Working Group makes the following recommendations to rail workers to help them stay safe on the job this summer:


Any crew member intending to foul track or equipment must notify the locomotive engineer before such action can take place. The locomotive engineer must then apply locomotive or train brakes, have the reverser centered, and then confirm this action with the individual on the ground. Additionally, any crew member that intends to adjust knuckles/drawbars, or apply or remove EOT device, must insure that the cut of cars to be coupled into is separated by no less than 50 feet. Also, the person on the ground must physically inspect the cut of cars not attached to the locomotive to insure that they are completely stopped and, if necessary, a sufficient number of hand brakes must be applied to insure the cut of cars will not move.


When two or more train crews are simultaneously performing work in the same yard or industry tracks, extra precautions must be taken:

Same Track

Two or more crews are prohibited from switching into the same track at the same time, without establishing direct communication with all crew members involved.

Adjacent Track

Protection must be afforded when there is the possibility of movement on adjacent track(s). Each crew will arrange positive protection for (an) adjacent track(s) through positive communications with yardmaster and/or other crew members.


At the beginning of each tour of duty, all crew members will meet and discuss all safety matters and work to be accomplished. Additional briefings will be held any time work changes are made and when necessary to protect their safety during their performance of service.


When using radio communication, locomotive engineers must not begin any shove move without a specified distance from the person controlling the move. Strict compliance with "distance to go" communication must be maintained. When controlling train or engine movements, all crew members must communicate by hand signals or radio signals. A combination of hand and radio signals is prohibited. All crew members must confirm when the mode of communication changes.


Crew members with less than one year of service must have special attention paid to safety awareness, service qualifications, on-the-job training, physical plant familiarity, and overall ability to perform service safely and efficiently. Programs such as peer review, mentoring and supervisory observation must be utilized to insure employees are able to perform service in a safe manner.

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Thus far in 2008, there have been six on-the-job fatalities in switching operations:

January 8, Waukegan, Ill.

A UP conductor, working a METRA commuter train, was struck by another METRA commuter train while he was stooped over the crossover switch connecting the two main tracks located just south of the passenger station.

February 3, Chicago, Ill.

A brakeman, working between cars in his train, stepped out from between two cars and into the path of a main track Canadian National train that was passing the stopped NS train.

March 5, Random Lake, Wisc.

A 50-year-old conductor was riding the side of a car into an industry when the car derailed, struck a car on an adjacent track, and resulted in the death of the employee.

May 26, Lumberton, N.C.

A 45-year-old conductor was riding the leading end of 97 loaded coal hoppers and directing the move to the unloading spot by radio commands to his engine crew. Once the move was stopped, the conductor could not be contacted and was subsequently found dead, under a pile of coal located near the unloading area.

May 29, Amarillo, Texas

A brakeman was riding the leading end of a four car cut of cars that was free rolling into a track. As the brakeman went to position himself to begin controlling the speed of the free rolling cars by using the handbrake, the hand brake support gave way, the hand brake apparatus broke off and the employee fell under the leading end of the free rolling cars.

June 8, Houston, Texas

A brakeman was lining switches ahead of a shove move during an industrial switching operation. The brakeman was directing the shove move via radio. Radio communication ceased, the conductor went back to check on the brakeman and found him dead within the gage of the rail.



© 2008 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen