Flashing Ditch Lights

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Flashing Ditch Lights

  • I have a question about ditch lights. I know that RR's need to have ditch lights on locomotives for safety purposes, but some railroads have flashing ditch lights and others don't.  What makes a railroad decide whether to have their ditch lights alternate or not when they sound the horn at a grade crossing? 

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  • More visibility. You're more likely to notice flashing lights than you are steady lights.

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  • I haven't observed any other operators closely but Metra uses flashing ditch lights that activate when the horn is sounded for a grade crossing or approaching a station.

    Paul The commute to work may be part of the daily grind, but I get two train rides a day out of it.
  • NS locomotives also flash the ditch lights when the horn is sounded.

    Mike (2-8-2)
  • JordanWClover

    I have a question about ditch lights. I know that RR's need to have ditch lights on locomotives for safety purposes, but some railroads have flashing ditch lights and others don't.  What makes a railroad decide whether to have their ditch lights alternate or not when they sound the horn at a grade crossing?

    Let me start by noting that the ditch light requirement is Federal law, 49 CFR 229.125.  Here is a bit of the text that indicates what is required:

        (e) Auxiliary lights required by paragraph (d) of this section may
    be arranged
        (1) to burn steadily or
        (2) flash on approach to a crossing.
        If the auxiliary lights are arranged to flash;
        (i) they shall flash alternately at a rate of at least 40 flashes
    per minute and at most 180 flashes per minute,
        (ii) the railroad's operating rules shall set a standard procedure
    for use of flashing lights at public highway-rail grade crossings, and
        (iii) the flashing feature may be activated automatically, but shall
    be capable of manual activation and deactivation by the locomotive
    engineer.
        (f) Auxiliary lights required by paragraph (d) of this section shall
    be continuously illuminated immediately prior to and during movement of
    the locomotive, except as provided by railroad operating rules,
    timetable or special instructions, unless such exception is disapproved
    by FRA. A railroad may except use of auxiliary lights at a specific
    public highway-rail grade crossing by designating that exception in the
    railroad's operating rules, timetable, or a special order. Any exception
    from use of auxiliary lights at a specific public grade crossing can be
    disapproved for a stated cause by FRA's Associate Administrator for
    Safety or any one of FRA's Regional Administrators, after investigation
    by FRA and opportunity for response from the railroad.

    Note that this actually does guide you to an answer, albeit a bit of an unhelpful one: both the choice to flash the ditch lights and whether they come on automatically with the horn are determined in the particular railroad's operating and safety rules, etc.  I can speculate on why particular railroads might decide to flash the lights under certain circumstances -- a legal department's interpretation of due care, for example -- but it may not (and probably will not) be explained there exactly why the procedure is adopted... or whether there are reasons. political or otherwise, why some crossings might be exempted from flashing per 229.125(f).