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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 4 (August 1, 1927)

Shunting. — Practice And Precautions

page 12

Practice And Precautions.

Mr. T. G. Glasgow, Sight-testing Officer of the N. Z. R., has kindly supplied the following article. He has had years of experience, as shunter, signalman and guard, in direct personal contact with the work of train-handling in shunting yards and along the road. Mr. Glasgow's contribution is sure to receive the approval of all practical railwaymen.

The following article does not purport to set out definite rules for shunting, but to make suggestions which are applicable and may be helpful under the conditions obtaining in the New Zealand Railway Service. Our Service is only in its infancy, and conditions peculiar to densely populated countries do not altogether apply to our work.

It is essential in the Traffic Department that members should possess all round qualifications. Even clerical workers, at times, require a certain amount of shunting knowledge. The average youth joining the Service has a very vague idea of the inner working of the occupation which he is about to engage in, and does not realise the amount of work required to make up the various trains which he is accustomed to see pass along the line.

The popular idea of railway work is that you either sell tickets from an office, or wear a uniform and ride in the trains. Disillusionment is swift and sure, but it would not be fair to detail the way to wisdom, for it might deter some potential general manager from setting out on the journey.

The wrong way to stand when coupling up vehicles.

The wrong way to stand when coupling up vehicles.

To the Second Division railway recruit I would say that his first important lesson should be to become familiar with moving trains and vehicles. He must use his eyes and ears, observe that trains and vehicles generally follow the rails, and educate himself to observe how the different lines are set and the method by which pathways are changed. The recruit will thus gradually acquire a passing knowledge of the first portion of the work which will later become his existence. He should watch the men engaged in their various duties and note how they set about their work and the precautions they are taking for their own safety as well as that of recruits and other people.

He will probably very soon essay, a ride on a moving train, and should be careful to master the art of getting on and off moving vehicles successfully. Quite a slow pace is good enough to practise on, and experience with fast traffic must not be rushed. The results of precipitation are often painful and sometimes dangerous. This part of his schooling does not require much explanation, but it can be said here that safety lies in getting a firm grip with the hands, and finding a safe foothold. Eyes, hands and feet should be trained to work simultaneously. First a look at the vehicle to be boarded, then a quick glance along the track on which it is running. (This should take in any objects within range or likely to approach closely to the vehicle on which it is proposed to ride). The next precaution is to look carefully to see that there is ample clearance from vehicles or projections on the adjacent lines. This rule is probably the most essential of all that can be given, and failure to observe it has cost many splendid lives.

It would be quite impossible to detail all the dangers that exist, even for experienced workers, in a busy shunting yard, but there page 13 are a few essential duties which should be remembered.

Do not cross through small gaps between buffers-vehicles may be shifting at any moment. Climb over; it is slower but safer.

Do not walk in the tracks; trains are constantly moving, and the staff working cannot watch out for others. Therefore, always walk in the pathways between the different tracks.

Look each way before crossing rails; vehicles may come from any direction.

The Correct Way. Note: The shunter is standing clear of the rails, has a firm hand and foothold, and has his attention fixed on the operation.

The Correct Way.
Note: The shunter is standing clear of the rails, has a firm hand and foothold, and has his attention fixed on the operation.

Do not stand between roads in which vehicles are moving in opposite directions; a slight over-balancing may cause an accident.

Do not board vehicles or engines from the front end; it looks easy when done by experienced men, but involves unnecessary risk to even these.

Watch the movements of others who may be working with you; do not get in the way of a member running to turn points or pin down brakes.

Listen carefully to any instructions which may be given; if not clearly understood, do not hesitate to say so; it takes less time to repeat an order than to undo a wrong movement.

Pay particular attention to any movement made in places where staff are engaged in such occupations as unloading trucks, repair work or cleaning work.

Reduce conversation on general subjects to a minimum; there will be plenty of time during “spell-oh” for general conversation.

Alertness and vigilance are valuable aids to your own safety as well as that of others.

The foregoing outlines of “do's and “don'sts” is meant for a member who is just entering into the railway service, but of course all of it may not be applicable at once. The average recruit to the service gains his experience either as a beginner at a country station, or attached to a platform staff at the larger centres.

The worker at a country station will probably gain his first experience by having to detach or attach vehicles to trains passing through his station. His first lesson should be with regard to the manipulation of the different points and safety appliances, stop blocks, catch points, or shunting legs. He should have all these details pointed out and explained to him, and should be taught to know by observation whether the lines are set as required. He should be given practical demonstration of the method of working, and then be allowed to carry out a prescribed operation with the lines available.

His next lesson should be with regard to locking up, and satisfying himself that all lines are safe for traffic. The instruction in this subject can be made quite thorough, and it should not be scamped in any way; confidence in this respect leaves the mind free to deal with other problems which will come later.

The essential principles of signalling for protection of the station should also be given, but of course the more complicated systems take considerable time to be fully explained and understood.

Hand signalling instructions are necessary, and, again, practical demonstration and performance should be used; a member should not be allowed to give hand signals for shunting which are unintelligible or which could be interpreted wrongly. Untrained men frequently give signals which, if obeyed, would lead to disaster. A little time for observation and definite instruction would obviate this.

Instruction as to the correct method of coupling and uncoupling vehicles should also be given, and the learner should be made to perform these operations with stationary vehicles.

When a recruit has mastered these details, he may then be allowed, under supervision, to carry out a simple shunting movement and -so long as he is not in danger-permitted to perform the whole operation by himself.

page break
Ignoring Clearances And Courting Danger. A striking illustration of a very dangerous practice in shunting.

Ignoring Clearances And Courting Danger.
A striking illustration of a very dangerous practice in shunting.

page 15

Any mistakes could be pointed out, and helpful suggestions given afterwards. The saying that “an ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory” applies very aptly here.

Some men are more adapted than others for shunting work, but a man of average intelligence and physical development can be readily made into a reliable railway man. Occasionally a person is met with who, by reason of temperament or physical disability, is quite unfitted for general railway work. It is mistaken kindness to retain anyone of this type in positions where they may possibly be a danger to themselves or others. Senior members of the Service can do much in the way of educating the new members. Experience will teach that such effort brings its own reward and is well worth while. Especially should attention be given where a new member shows an inclination to take unnecessary risks or to fail in recognising danger.

There are many other suggestions which could be made here, but the general principles are that clear and definite instruction in essential points should be imparted to a recruit before allowing him to perform actual shunting duties.

Getting On Step Of Cowcatcher. The right way.

Getting On Step Of Cowcatcher.
The right way.

Getting On Step Of Cowcatcher. The wrong way.

Getting On Step Of Cowcatcher.
The wrong way.

When a beginner has demonstrated that he can be trusted with simple shunting operations, he can be given further instruction with regard to marshalling vehicles on trains and in yards. He should be taught to first ascertain the composition of the train which is about to shunt, and then arrive at an understanding with the guard or brakesman as to how the wagons from his station are to be marshalled into the train. It is essential that trains should keep to schedule time and it is necessary for shunting operations at wayside stations to be carried out with promptitude. This does not mean reckless shunting, and it can be safely laid down that prompt and efficient shunting is never reckless shunting.

Where it is advantageous to perform fly shunting, suitable arrangements should be made as to the responsibility for setting roads and braking wagons. Nothing is gained by fly shunting if the shunter has to follow wagons into different roads in order to pin down brakes; in fact time is lost by reason of the fact that the shunter has to walk back to the engine and wagons, whereas, if the engine came in with him, he could ride back. Where possible the hauling round of heavy rakes of wagons should be avoided in shunting. It is quite impossible for quick handling to be performed by the engineman if he has to haul a heavy rake, and it is also quite impossible to correctly gauge speed and ability to stop at short notice. It pays at times to hold a few “through” loads in the front of a train, rather than to pull out the whole train in order to marshal in the proper position. This work should, when necessary, be carried out at sub-terminal or marshalling depots when yard facilities and staff are available.

The layout of stations varies, and systems which are suitable in one yard may not be so in others. When possible, shunting should be carried out clear of the main line, and the page 16 fullest use made of shunting legs and back-shunts.

In shunting at country stations attention should be given to the best method of placing wagons for loading and unloading; space should be left for hand-shunting vehicles after unloading. In cattle yards, rakes should be placed so that each vehicle can be brought opposite the loading race. At times rakes of wagons are left with loaded wagons midway, and consequently the whole rake has to be hand-shunted twice to allow of unloading. The same remarks can be applied to goods-sheds and loading-banks.

Station staffs should be instructed to give attention to the removal of tarpaulins and lashings, stanchions, bond chains, etc.; accidents are caused at times by such articles being allowed to foul the lines or points. The greatest care should be exercised in shunting through sheds or past loading stages. There is only clearance for vehicles alongside loading banks, cattleyards, and shed doors, and many serious and some fatal accidents have occurred through railwaymen being caught in such positions.

In The Heart Of The Mountains. Steam and electric locomotives in the yard at Arthur's Pass (2,420 ft. above sea level), Midland line, South Island.

In The Heart Of The Mountains.
Steam and electric locomotives in the yard at Arthur's Pass (2,420 ft. above sea level), Midland line, South Island.

In braking wagons into a road the brakesman should first make sure that he has sufficient brakes on the opposite side to the bank or stage, otherwise it is dangerous to perform such a shunt. Always remember that it is necessary to give signals in such a way that the engine crew will be able to see clearly what is required. Often a shunter walks out of sight of the enginemen and loses patience over the neglect of his signals-which have not been seen! Enginemen for their part should be careful with regard to blowing off steam; it is most dangerous for shunters, working amongst moving vehicles, when they are temporarily blinded by escaping steam.

Great care should be taken when going between vehicles for the purpose of cutting off, especially when the vehicles are moving. This should never be attempted where there are rods or check-rails which may trip the shunter.

Inexperienced shunters should not attempt slip-shunting. When such shunting is necessary two men should be employed, one to uncouple, and the other to turn the points. The member riding on the vehicle where the cut is to be made should be careful to ride where he will have a safe foothold and will be clear in case the wagons should foul one another. He must take a tight grip with the hands and be prepared for a fairly violent recoil when the engine slows down.