Tales From The Krug
Copyright AA Krug

Approach Medium

The requirements of a block signal do not apply until you are actually at or beyond that signal. A Clear (green) signal does not apply until you get to that signal. A Stop (red) signal does not apply until you are at that signal. There is no requirement to stop as soon as you can see the Stop signal which may be 2 miles away. All signals apply at the signal, not before.

BNSF signal rules:


These rules seem to be absolute black and white to me. Do exactly as they say. But it turns out that my interpretation is not the same as the railroad's interpretation. That almost got me fired several years ago.

Much of it hinges on the words "prepared to". What does that mean. I interpret that to mean be ready to do as stated IF it turns out to be required by the next signal. It is not an absolute requirement to do as stated if the situation at the next signal does not require it. Through some of the railroad's own interpretations it seems they agree with me. But only sometimes. I despise their dualities in interpreting the rules.

"Prepared to". For an Approach signal the indication says "Proceed prepared to stop at next signal". Prepared to stop... It does not say "Stop at next signal". It depends upon the next signal. If they wanted you to stop at the next signal they would say "Proceed. Stop at next signal" not "prepared to stop". Similarly for the Approach Medium if they wanted you to go by the next signal at 40 mph they should say "Proceed. Pass next signal not exceeding 40 mph" instead of "prepared to".

Where the Railroad and I agree

If you pass a signal displaying one of the Approach Medium aspects the rule says to proceed. There is no immediate action necessary. You may proceed at full track speed. The railroad agrees with me on this point.

The rule also says to be PREPARED to pass the next signal not exceeding 40 mph. The rule does not say PASS the next signal not execeeding 40 mph. It says be PREPARED to do so. That implies that it may not be necessary to do so depending upon circumstances at the next signal.

Indeed the railroad also agrees with me on this point. There are circumstances in which it is NOT required that you pass the next signal at 40 mph.

GCOR Rule 9.8 Next Governing Signal.
A train may comply with the next signal's indication when its aspect can be clearly seen and it governs the track where movement is occurring or will be made. This does not apply when a rule or previous signal indication requires movement at restricted speed.

If you can see the next signal a suffient distance before slowing and its aspect indicates you do not need to pass it at 40 mph or less then you do not need to slow down at all. For instance if the next signal is Clear (green) then you may proceed past it at track speed. Similarly if the next signal is another Approach Medium you do not have to slow. You may pass that second Approach Medium at full track speed just like you did the first one. Approach Medium indications do not require you to pass them at any particular speed. In fact you can run all day and night long on Approach Medium after Approach Medium at full track speed as long as you can see the next signal after each one is not a signal that requires you to slow. The railroad agrees with me on this point as well.

The rule for an Approach signal (not an Approach Medium) says to proceed PREPARED to stop at the next signal. Again this implies that there may be times when you will not actually have to stop at the next signal. Just be prepared to do so if it turns out to be required. If after passing an Approach signal the next signal is Clear (green) or an Approach Medium or any other signal aspect that does not require you to stop at it, including even the lowly Restricted aspect, then you do not have to stop. You may keep going. The railroad agrees with me on this point.

The rule for an Approach signal also says that trains exceeding 40 mph must immediately reduce to that speed. So if you pass a signal displaying an Approach aspect then you must immediately reduce to 40 mph or less. You may or may not be required to stop at the next signal.

Rule 9.8 above says that I may comply with the next signal indication as soon as I can see it. So if I have passed an Approach signal and can then see the next signal a mile ahead is Clear I can immediately comply with the Clear signal. I can resume full track speed. I no longer have to run 40 mph because of the Approach I passed previously. Since I do not have to begin reducing to 40 mph or less until I pass an Approach signal, and since we have many locations where I can see the next signal immediately upon passing the one at my current location, if the next signal is Clear or any other aspect that does not require a speed reduction, Rule 9.8 allows me to proceed at full track track speed on Approach signals without ever slowing down. The railroad agrees with me on this point.

Also note that the rule for an Approach signal does not require a train to PASS it at any particular speed. It merely says you must immediately reduce to 40 mph or less upon passing it and even that is subject to the above exceptions. A signal does not apply until you get to it. Until I get to the Approach signal I am running on the previous Approach Medium or even a Clear. Rule 9.8 says that I MAY comply with the next signal indication. It does not say that I MUST comply with it.

There are many places where you do not get an Approach Medium signal before getting an Approach signal. It is quite common to be running on greens and suddenly encounter an Approach signal. There is no way you could be expected to instantly reduce from 60 or 70 mph to 40 mph and pass that Approach signal at 40 mph or less. The railroad agrees with me on this point. You do not have to pass Approach signals not exceeding 40 mph. You can do so legally at track speed.

Where the Railroad and I Disagree

Based upon the exact wording of the signal rules and the interpretations above I say that if you encounter an Approach Medium signal and the next signal is an Approach, you do NOT have pass that Approach signal at 40 mph. You can pass it at full track speed. (Then imediately take action to reduce to 40 mph).

The Approach Medium signal does not require you to pass the next signal at 40 mph. The railroad agreed with me on that above. The Approach Medium only requires that you be prepared to pass the next signal at 40 mph or less if it turns out to be necessary to do so. That means if the next signal is a Diverging signal that requires a speed of 40 mph you had better be prepared to do 40 mph past that signal.

An Approach signal does not require you to pass it at 40 mph. It only states that you must immediately reduce to 40 mph upon passing it. The railroad also agreed with that above.

But the railroad says that if you get an Approach Medium and the next signal is an Approach then you must go past that Approach not exceeding 40 mph. Duh? Where did that come from? None of the signal rules support that interpretation. Their own interpretations don't support that interpretation. It appears to have been pulled right out of the blue. It is a duality in the interpretations of the rules.

Basically what they are saying with that interpretation is that getting the Approach Medium signal before an Approach MODIFIES the requirements of the Approach Signal. The Approach Medium signal does not require you to pass the next signal at 40 mph if the next signal does not require it and the Approach signal rule does not require you to pass it at 40 mph. They agree with that. But put them both together and somehow, magically, the rules are changed. I'll be darned if I can see how they come up with that.

How I almost got fired

One day I am sailing along on a set of coal empties at the 60 mph track speed. I go by a flashing yellow signal, an Approach Medium. I keep right on going at 60 mph. The next signal is an Approach. The instant I pass it I go to full dynamic braking and set some air brakes. The train speed begins dropping immediately with full DB and the air brakes quickly bring it down under 40 mph. I figure I am in full compliance. I have been operating this way every trip ever since signals were installed on our line years before.

The trainmaster happened to be driving alongside the train a few cars back. He radios for me to stop. He pulls the speed tape and says we will have a formal investigation for speeding by an Approach signal. It was at that point that I first encountered the railroad's interpretation of the Approach Medium - Approach combination. Something I never dreamed of. This trainmaster was one of those Little Napoleons and he would not even listen to my explanations. All he could say was that we'd be getting a registered letter in the mail in a few days for the formal investigation.

As it turned out there never was any investigation. The whole thing was dropped. But it was because the division superintendent at the time did not want any more firings, not because of my interpretation of the rules. In fact no one would even listen to it.

Now that I know how the railroad wants us to handle the Approach Medium - Approach combination I do it their way. But I still cannot see how it is supported by the rules. It is strictly a "word of mouth" rule.

Worse, they are now saying that if you have ANY advance knowledge of an Approach indication then you must pass that Approach signal at 40 mph or less. Even if the previous signal was green but you can see the Approach signal far enough ahead. They also include locations where the best aspect a signal can display is Approach. This sounds like another case of very long term familiarization with a route. I wonder how many young engineers that get bumped all around the system and are "qualified" on a thousand or more miles of railroad know the best indication all the signals are capable of displaying? This is NOT supported by the rule book. It is not stated in writing to crews anywhere that I know of. It is another assinine and totally arbitrary requirement.

Changes
Since my run in with the signal rules occurred coal empties are no longer permitted 60 mph. Maximum speed is 50 mph every where except downhill where is 55 mph. (2004 note: The 50/55 mph requirement has again been changed and once again coal empties are permitted 60 mph).

Recently the BNSF has changed the rules somewhat. The rules now require trains to immediately reduce to 30 mph instead of 40 mph after passing an Approach indication and we cannot increase speed above 30 mph until our leading wheels have passed a more favorable signal. When running on an Approach indication Rule 9.8 no longer applies.

These changes do not however change the above word-of-mouth requirement to pass the Approach signal at 40 mph if you have any advance knowledge it will be an an Approach.


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Created 08-01-2002
Updated 07-05-2004