Foolish Kid II

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Roscoe P. Coaltrain

Hot pursuit in Hazzard Co
On this thread over at that other site, a railfan visiting a popular eastern hangout admits to using a 2-way radio to contact the crew of a train to report smoking traction motors and blowing coal dust,2467550

Here is the actual video on youtube, where you can hear his transmitted message

The discussion that ensues has many people claiming his actions were illegal, while others say it was permissible under FCC rules in an emergency situation. Some 'rail' was supposed to ask his local FRA inspector for clarification on any rules.

Someone replying on the thread admitted they also witnessed a transmission once, to report an open container door. I can see that as okay if the doors are big enough to foul an adjacent track, but if not, then its another fix via the 800 number. I could see a dragging chain as qualifying as an emergency, where waiting for the 800 number operator to stop the train may be too long before the chain encounters a switchstand.

Personally, I don't think this event qualifies as an emergency. A washed out trackbed, sure. Its obvious. But smoking electrical motors? Nah, that happens all the time, and its not life threatening. I think the emergency transmit rule also applies when no other means of communication are available. But the NS 800 number WAS available.

In an era where the slightest problem brings the homeland security net down, or brings drastic changes to laws, this kind of stuff is inviting trouble. Whether the boogey-man paranoia is legitimate, well that's another issue. But right now, it is real, and it does affect railfans.

I think the guy should be fined by the FCC. Then maybe he will not rely upon some railfan website's or railfan magazine's definition of what an emergency is. Maybe he won't do the next brazen 'something' for Youtube or social media or railfan message board fame. The continuing death of common sense in America.
I can't help but agree here ... proper course of action would be call the RR's 1-800 number.

Brake smoke is normal ... heck, we make brake smoke on the BRSR, with a single locomotive and 10 passenger cars (and yes, passengers do ask/comment about it).

Now, if the thing was actually flaming ... maybe different story.

- litz
I don't have all the rules handy, but as an Amateur radio operator I know the rules are very specific about on what frequencies you can operate. Frequencies that are alloted for railroads are not on our list. Tom
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Wow I don't think Ive ever seen that much coal dust. As for the transmission I can't say I have no knowledge of the rules involved here.


Plays Well With Others
Wow I've never seen a coal train with that much coal dust coming off of it. Must not have been far from where it loaded.

As far as the transmission I'd think its a gray area as to whether or not it was an "emergency", but first off does anyone know for sure that the guy isn't a rail?


Active Member
I agree, there is no reason anyone who isn't qualified on the railroad should be using the radio. So railfans should never be talking on the radio, and even employees of railroads shouldn't be using the radios when railfanning. It's an official company tool regulated by the FCC and employees are trained on it when taking rules tests.

Realistically non-authorized persons shouldn't have radios that can transmit on the Railroad Band. I'm not going to say take all the radios away, but there is no reason to have a radio that can transmit on the frequencies.

If you see a problem, call the railroad 800 number. If you are an observant railfan you can give out the subdivision and milepost and the train or engine number.
I've noticed PV owners have RR have portables,and they talk to the Amtrak people sometimes when there cars need water,or somebody wants to get off at a certain destination,but i'd have to say it's a case by case issue.If i saw something that that needed immediate action(wheel on ground,flames shooting from a hazmat,washout ahead, etc. i'd do everything i could to stop the the train,, hand signals etc. There are situations although rare,that calling some 800 number may be to late. Seems like the fireman would have noticed the smoke in this case.


Active Member
I've noticed PV owners have RR have portables,and they talk to the Amtrak people sometimes when there cars need water,or somebody wants to get off at a certain destination
I think the PV needs to have a radio, and realistically, the PV is part of the train, so you are talking apples and oranges.

There is a regulation that in an emergency you can talk on unlicensed frequencies, but the FCC take a very narrow view on what an emergency is. Pretty much you need to prevent injuries and death to meet there requirement, so a smoking brake does not satisfy them.

UP Salina Sub

Railfanius Extremus
I have wondered this too, if I observe something, what number to call. Only 800 numbers I see on the UP,and BNSF are ones for reporting grade crossing problems/ or stalled vehicles


Active Member
I have wondered this too, if I observe something, what number to call. Only 800 numbers I see on the UP,and BNSF are ones for reporting grade crossing problems/ or stalled vehicles
Those are the emergency response numbers. If you call the UP number it will give you a voice prompt with different actions. I think one is a police emergency or to stop a train, that is the one you want if you see a major problem with a train. If there is a crossing problem, choose the grade crossing option.
I don't think it would have been that big of a deal for a rail fan to contact the crew by radio. It was after all a legitimate concern with the possibility for a wide variety of worse case scenarios including fire,damage to the braking system,wheel lock up and possible derailment due to mechanic stress and failure,traction motor meltdown,and a number of other problems. As a former locomotive mechanic I have never seen anything like that and would have stopped the train as soon as possible to give a full inspection.

Many people don't know coal dust is extremely flammable. If those traction motors or cables have caught fire due to overloading (which I have seen many times and is why locomotives have a load meter along with maximum load times) it could have resulted in igniting that coal dust and causing a massive explosion.

I stopped a freight train once using my flash light to wave across the locomotive back and forth while pacing it from the road. He had a car with locked up brakes that was shooting sparks at least 30 feet from the sides of all 8 wheels. Not only where these sparks(which were massive) showering cars and pedestrians at each crossing,they were also setting small brush fires along the way. When he stopped I told him what I saw and we both went back and inspected the car. The wheels had turned all colors of blue and purple and loaded with flat spots. He was very thankful I had stopped him and said he never knew about those sparks.

As far as calling that 1-800 number. I think it's totally useless. I have called it many times. I remember there used to be this homeless bunch camped across the railroad tracks and would often open the doors of the reefers to steal boxes of boneless chicken and leave the door open. Naturally everything defrosted and when bad. I saw this happen probably 10 different times and if the railroad police came(which was rare) he came 2 hours later and was too fat and lazy to do anything about it.

Accidents and derailments cost the railroads millions of dollars each time they happen. Every time I have reported something either to the crew or gone into the office of the dispatcher at the local yard they were more than happy I told them about it. Their jobs are on the line along with the lives of others that train passes. I often wonder how many hundreds of rail accidents and derailments over the years could have been prevented had someone cared enough to say something about it instead of ignoring it.


Remarkably Snide
I doubt any railroad cop is going to run lights and sirens for 200 miles to arrest a homeless guy for leaving a reefer door open. Nor do I think it constitutes an "emergency". But considering we have a foamer kid using a radio because of coal dust and smoking traction motors, maybe they changed the definition?

Coal dust.



Photo Critiques Welcome
An emergency is a dangerous situation requiring immediate action, not a foamer itching to talk to the rails on his unlicensed transmitter or a case where the carrier doesn’t react in a manner we find satisfying. Calling the 800 number is the best thing to do in nearly every circumstance. We can dream up scenarios where a catastrophe is seconds away and the carrier couldn’t possibly react in time but I dare say that is rare. A flaming journal on a chlorine tanker yes, coal dust no.

Coal dust blowing off the tops of the cars would really be unlikely to obtain a concentration high enough to support an explosion. Coal dust at concentrations that will support an explosion are far in excess of what is breathable and will block out lights more than several feet away. Dust explosions are generally in contained environments. Without containment the particles are not kept in close enough proximity to transfer heat quickly enough to support explosive combustion.
I doubt any railroad cop is going to run lights and sirens for 200 miles to arrest a homeless guy for leaving a reefer door open. Nor do I think it constitutes an "emergency". But considering we have a foamer kid using a radio because of coal dust and smoking traction motors, maybe they changed the definition?

Coal dust.

Well actually it was a big deal. A door wide open on a reefer full of frozen chicken will defrost it in a few hours resulting in the loss of a entire car of boneless chicken. And yes I know it was bad because I was the conductor who followed the smell(like a pile of dead bodies) to the car where the door had been wide open since the night before. And no you can not save this box and that box when it has been sitting next to rotting food and you also can not ship it to the receiver with broken seals and missing cargo. They will reject it. I was told by my supervisor who came to investigate that car it would cost the railroad $68,000 dollars to pay out all that rotting chicken.

As far as the cop running 200 miles??? What makes you think this was 200 miles away? Matter of fact it was in a yard in Seattle. The UP police officer was also stationed in Seattle not even 10 miles from the yard I was working in. Needless to say after the 9th 10th time I reported it the lazy cop was fired and we resulted in calling the local police who found both men near the rail yard in the woods along with 30 empty boxes of chicken in their garbage pile. Not a big deal? A million dollars lost in claims that could have been prevented if some UP cop would have doing his job. We were lucky we still had jobs after that one.

For your information I am not a foamer kid and neither are many of us on this website. I have worked for one company overhauling locomotives,one company building rail cars,two other companies overhauling and repairing rail cars(including Amtrak cars and AOE cars),and worked for Union pacific as a Conductor and Hostler. I think I am in a better position then just about anyone to know what is normal and what is not and what should be reported and what shouldn't.

I know every rivet,every spring,every part on those locomotives and cars. I know far more than the engineer who has probably never turned a wrench is his life. I agree that people should not be getting on the radios of the crew or the railroad. I can remember a few times getting calls from photographers down the line asking us when our train was leaving. That shouldn't happen. But if we are going down the main line at 60 and someone calls us on our radio(regardless if it is Big bird or the tooth fairy) and tells us we are dragging something,something is leaking,people or cars are on the tracks further down the line,etc,then why should their be any problem? You really think the dispatcher is going to have any problem with us stopping the train out of safety concerns? You really think the alternative is to ignore this person and risk death and destruction? Only a total fool would.

As someone who has been involved in accidents and derailments I can assure you every orifice of your body will be probed by every supervisor,investigator,FRA official,safety official,Union boss,co workers,and every one else you can think of. They will check that black box in the locomotive which does record every radio transmission and you better pray and hope someone didn't call you on that radio to report a safety concern regardless of who they were. Because if they did you will be held accountable and face criminal charges.


Remarkably Snide
Well, if they already broke the seal, then the load is probably a write-off. I don't see what they could have done except maybe arrest and charge the homeless. But they won't have the money to make restitution. Is it a crime? Yes. Is it expensive? Of course. But is it an EMERGENCY? I say: NO.

And save the preaching for someone else. I know what this job entails. I'm not a foamer kid either. Of course you take action if notified of a problem. The consensus here is that you should only notify if there is a real problem. I mean: coal dust?


The Origin Of Storms
Listen can argue all you want about justifiable "emergency" scenarios that 'could' happen if Joe Railfan doesn't key up and radio a crew. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Not so much. Coal dust explosion? Black cloud of death at a crossing? Now we're talking 'Unstoppable' situations. I've been engineering a long time and have never even heard of such a thing in all the wild tales that run around the RR. The chances that the crew doesn't know they have a hot motor (if that's even what you're seeing) are thin...the warnings are pretty hard to ignore. Shoot, I kinda like the smell of hot windings in the morning anyway. Smells like...victory (with a grateful nod to Lt. Col. Kilgore) LOL

Coal dust is coal dust. What are they supposed to do? Stop and tarp all of them? And by the way...I've ruined more than one load of wash hung out on the clothesline with black fog blowing off a coal train. Sometimes it does that...

The cold fact is, it's illegal to transmit on railroad frequencies without a license and IMO, a dangerous precedent. Sometimes, I can't make heads or tails out of legitimate transmissions when it gets busy and everybody squelches all over everybody else. I DO NOT want anyone on the air who doesn't belong there adding to the confusion. And some camera-head with a transmitting scanner asking questions about my arrival time or location would get a reply from the police for their trouble if I had anything to do with it. Just sayin'...

What are we talking about here? I understand the desire to be helpful but there's a reason for radio rules...clarity of information, identity of sender and reciever, engine numbers, locations etc. Failing any of that, I'd be damn-awful suspicious of a transmission from an unknown source wanting me to stop for unknown reasons at an odd location. Ever heard of rail security? You're telling me I've got a problem? Who are you? How do I know you know what you're talking about? Do you even know what you're looking at? Why do you want that hazmat you say might be leaking stopped in the first place? Paranoid? Nope...just cautious and thinking of other possible motives.

I appreciate the good citizenship really but I don't know you and you're not supposed to be talking on our radios, hence I'm bound to be wary of your intentions. Railfans are good eyes and ears for sure but there's a right way to contact us and a wrong way. Stay off the radio. Keep the RR emergency and/or police numbers in your cell and call them if you see something that concerns you. Believe me, they'll let us know. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.