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Ditch lights--steady or flashing?

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Ditch lights--steady or flashing?
Posted by NP Eddie on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 9:55 PM

I a railfan and retired Class 1, I see North Star and Amtrak with flashing ditch lights and feel that the flashing lights are better to see. The BNSF has steady ditch lights.  Do the BNSF locomotives have a switch in the locomotive cab to move from steady to flashing?

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Posted by Paul Milenkovic on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 9:56 PM

I thought the ditch lights flash with then horn is blown -- greater visibility at road crossings.

If GM "killed the electric car", what am I doing standing next to an EV-1, a half a block from the WSOR tracks?
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Posted by BigJim on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 11:02 AM

Paul Milenkovic

I thought the ditch lights flash with then horn is blown -- greater visibility at road crossings.

Some do, some don't/or didn't. Before I retired, NS units flashed when the horn was blown, but, a lot of the Conrail units did not. I don't know if that has changed in the last eight years or not.
One other nice thing about a lot of the Conrail units was that they were on a separate circuit from the headlight. Where on the NS unit the ditch lights turned off when you dimmed the headlight, on the CR units you could dim the headlight and keep the ditch lights on. This was very helpful when running in fog at night.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 7:53 PM

I've always thought that flashing ditchlights must be a customer option, as only a few American railroads have them and I've never seen a Canadian unit with them.  

On newer power you can get just ditchlights by putting the headlight switch on bright and then turning off the headlight breaker on the back wall (the ditchlights are on a separate breaker). 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Wednesday, February 3, 2021 10:18 PM

UP and exCNW power had ditch lights that were constant.  The ditch lights on exSP power flash when the horn is sounded.

Some UP engines were delivered with a headlight switch that had the position of "medium and ditch lights" between "dim" and "bright and ditch lights."  The orders from the last few years seem to only have off, dim, and bright and ditch lights. 

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Posted by traisessive1 on Friday, February 5, 2021 4:31 PM

SD70Dude

...and I've never seen a Canadian unit with them. 

 

VIA's P42 locomotives were delivered with flashing ditch lights. VIA must not have liked it because they were quickly disabled. 

10000 feet and no dynamics? Today is going to be a good day ... 

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Posted by Max Karl on Friday, February 5, 2021 6:19 PM

Burlington Northern had flashing ditch lights (after the strobes). Santa Fe, and now BNSF, don't. I think flashing really helps visibilty on grade crossings, but some mechanical departments don't like them because of the maintenance. Do NS units still have relay flashers, or have they upgraded them?

Accoring to my BN SD70MAC manual, and I think this goes for many BN units, ditch lights are turned on after the headlight is fully bright. An exception to this is when the horn is blown, ditch lights automatically come on and then turn off. I believe this happens on most roads. There is also an option to manually flash the lights. BNSF has now disabled all former flashing ditch light units.

  Max Karl, MRL and BNSF

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Posted by traisessive1 on Saturday, February 6, 2021 10:45 AM

CN locomotives do not have the lights programmed to turn on when the horn is blown; they also can't flash. The only exception to this is a handful of the second hand purchased IC 2400 Dash 8s.

Different models of engines have their headlights and ditchlights set up differently.

Some have the headlights and ditchlights completely separate from each other. You have to manually turn both on and off with separate switches. I see newer engineers forget their ditchlights quite often because they just assume they're on with the bright headlights - Not the case! 

Some have have a ditch light selector switch that is Short Hood/Long Hood/Off or Short Hood/Long Hood and On/Off.  They will come on in the direction the switch is set for when that direction's headlight switch is on bright. Again, I see many engineers not realizing the ditchlights are off because they again, assume and don't check over their control stand. 

Some of the second hand standard cab Dash 8s have a 5 position headlight switch that isn't marked clearly. Off - Dim - Med - Bright - Bright and DL. Most guys aren't used to that and will only go 3 clicks from off because that's what all the other ones are. So again, guys will not know their ditch lights are off. 

Then there are the ones where there is no selector switch and the ditchlights come on simply with the lights on bright. 

 

So it's not always as simple as flicking a switch. 

10000 feet and no dynamics? Today is going to be a good day ... 

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Saturday, February 6, 2021 4:46 PM

Max Karl
when the horn is blown, ditch lights automatically come on and then turn off.

Is there any kind of "continue period" after the horn is sounded? I'm thinking maybe 5-10 seconds. It seems like if you're gonna blow two longs, a short and a long, it doesn't make much sense to have the ditch lights quit flashing during the quiet intervals.

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, February 6, 2021 4:54 PM

Lithonia Operator
 
Max Karl
when the horn is blown, ditch lights automatically come on and then turn off. 

Is there any kind of "continue period" after the horn is sounded? I'm thinking maybe 5-10 seconds. It seems like if you're gonna blow two longs, a short and a long, it doesn't make much sense to have the ditch lights quit flashing during the quiet intervals.

In Harrisons https://youtu.be/4rM-khglCZg it is evident that the CP does not flash their ditch lights - even with the horn blowing.  I am certain each carrier has their own preferences that satisfy Officialdom - steady or flashing.

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Posted by Max Karl on Saturday, February 6, 2021 7:52 PM

Exactly right, CSX, NS, and BN as I know of have a 10 second lasting period after the horn is blown.  I think this is the standard time for all of them.  I bet the crew would hate it if they had to keep the horn down just for the ditch lights!

  Max Karl, MRL and BNSF

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Posted by zugmann on Saturday, February 6, 2021 7:59 PM

Lithonia Operator
Is there any kind of "continue period" after the horn is sounded? I'm thinking maybe 5-10 seconds. It seems like if you're gonna blow two longs, a short and a long, it doesn't make much sense to have the ditch lights quit flashing during the quiet intervals.

ours are 30 seconds of flashing. 

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Saturday, February 6, 2021 9:57 PM

zugmann

 

 
Lithonia Operator
Is there any kind of "continue period" after the horn is sounded? I'm thinking maybe 5-10 seconds. It seems like if you're gonna blow two longs, a short and a long, it doesn't make much sense to have the ditch lights quit flashing during the quiet intervals.

 

ours are 30 seconds of flashing. 

 

So (for example, approaching a grade crossing) the timer would reset at the beginning of the last (long) honk? So if that last honk was 5 secs. long, the lights would then flash for an additional 25 secs. after that?

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Posted by foamductor on Sunday, February 7, 2021 7:49 AM

Lithonia Operator
So (for example, approaching a grade crossing) the timer would reset at the beginning of the last (long) honk? So if that last honk was 5 secs. long, the lights would then flash for an additional 25 secs. after that?



It's 30 seconds from the last activity. So as soon as I let go of the horn they will continue to flash 30 seconds after that. There is usually no way to turn the flashing off once they start. That said on NS power you can change which direction is flashing so you don't blind someone coming at you. You don't have that option on a lot of CSX power. 

Engines equipped with flashing ditch lights will usually have a switch to trigger them without blowing the horn. Some railroads require that they are to be flashing though quiet zone crossings. 

It should also be noted that there is no FRA requirement for a locomotive to have flashing ditch lights, however if it is equipped for flashing the function must work. 

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, February 7, 2021 8:10 AM

Lithonia Operator
So (for example, approaching a grade crossing) the timer would reset at the beginning of the last (long) honk? So if that last honk was 5 secs. long, the lights would then flash for an additional 25 secs. after that?

Timer starts/restarts every time you blow the horn (or push the button)

 The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer or any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Sunday, February 7, 2021 8:45 AM

Got it. Thanks.

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Posted by DAVID HAISELL on Tuesday, February 9, 2021 4:25 PM

SD70Dude

I've always thought that flashing ditchlights must be a customer option, as only a few American railroads have them and I've never seen a Canadian unit with them. 

 

The GO Transit MP40s and MP45s have them, as well as the cab cars. Most of the times I've seen them flash, they were on express trains about to cruise through a station without stopping.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, February 11, 2021 4:56 PM

On the Amtrak P42s as built, you could not 'select' flashing ditch lights; you could only switch them on steady.  The alternate flash was engaged only by blowing the horn (or pushing the foot horn sequencer)  which made the ditch lights alternate flash for '30 seconds' Apparently you could not turn that off once it was started, although you could turn off the bell which was activated at the same time.

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Posted by casey56 on Thursday, February 11, 2021 8:08 PM

Wasn't there concern that continually flashing lights were mesmerizing to the engine crews?

 

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Thursday, February 11, 2021 8:26 PM

The light fixtures themselves are not visible from the cab. I doubt the flashes from the ditch lights are bright enough to distract from what the headlight is illuminating at night. In the daytime, I would think the ditch flashes are hardly visible to the crew.

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Posted by BigJim on Friday, February 12, 2021 9:46 AM

casey56

Wasn't there concern that continually flashing lights were mesmerizing to the engine crews?

Mesmerizing, No.    Irritating, YES!!!

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Posted by SD70Dude on Friday, February 12, 2021 1:31 PM

BigJim
casey56

Wasn't there concern that continually flashing lights were mesmerizing to the engine crews?

Mesmerizing, No.    Irritating, YES!!!

Didn't Mars lights have the same problem?

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Posted by BigJim on Saturday, February 13, 2021 3:57 PM

I cannot comment on Mars Lights as I never operated a unit that had one.

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, February 13, 2021 5:52 PM

SD70Dude
 
BigJim
casey56

Wasn't there concern that continually flashing lights were mesmerizing to the engine crews?

Mesmerizing, No.    Irritating, YES!!! 

Didn't Mars lights have the same problem?

Never was on a engine that had a operating Mars light, that being said I had several trips on the East Coast Champion on the ACL and the Silver Meteor on the SAL and watched the Mars light sweep the countryside from a open Dutch Door.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, February 14, 2021 10:29 PM

Tree has commented a couple of times on the effect of Mars and similar lights on fire apparatus.  I'd think the effect in fog, rain or 'wrong' heaviness of snowfall, or similar conditions might well be annoying, and perhaps as 'hypnosis-inducing' through the dancing repetition as flickering ties were reported to be on the Zephyr shovelnoses and, later, on the Metroliners...

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Sunday, February 14, 2021 11:02 PM

I miss Mars lights. When I was a kid, it was so exciting to see a train approaching at night with a Mars light.

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 2:41 PM

Lithonia Operator

I miss Mars lights. When I was a kid, it was so exciting to see a train approaching at night with a Mars light.

 

   And far more attention-getting than flashing ditch lights.

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Posted by The Railwolf on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 3:36 AM

Lithonia Operator

 

 
Max Karl
when the horn is blown, ditch lights automatically come on and then turn off.

 

Is there any kind of "continue period" after the horn is sounded? I'm thinking maybe 5-10 seconds. It seems like if you're gonna blow two longs, a short and a long, it doesn't make much sense to have the ditch lights quit flashing during the quiet intervals.

 

Down here on CSX, as far as I have ever seen, ditch lights are flashed at crossings for as long as the locomotive bell is ringing (i.e. several seconds before the horn sequence begins, and several seconds after the lead unit crosses the road). Parked units being started up usually turn their headlights from dim to bright, followed a second or two later by solid on ditch lights. The ditch lights stay solid on at all times over the road, excepting when the horn/bell are used.

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Posted by Sunnyland on Sunday, March 7, 2021 2:42 PM

had no idea how they worked but for crossings whatever catches the attention of the  fool that wants to try and beat a train. But maybe nothing works, as you cannot fix stupid.  I do not like no horn zones for that reason, maybe they will hear the last blast on the horn and save their own lives and those of others.   That used to make Dad very angry when he would see people going around gates. The slogan for our light rail Metrolink is "see tracks, think train" And it is true, you never know.  I always stop, look both ways  and listen as Dad taught me to do when I come to any tracks.  

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Posted by FanOfTheRail on Saturday, April 10, 2021 5:32 PM

NP Eddie

I a railfan and retired Class 1, I see North Star and Amtrak with flashing ditch lights and feel that the flashing lights are better to see. The BNSF has steady ditch lights.  Do the BNSF locomotives have a switch in the locomotive cab to move from steady to flashing?

Ed Burns

 

Each road chooses if they want flashing ditch lights or steady ones. The flashing lights are a bit safer because they catch people's attention because of the motion of them. I would assume, though, that they are higher maintenance because of the bulb's filament repeatedly heating and cooling. This would probably wear down the bulbs faster than if they were just on. Also, I am pretty sure there is no switch on BNSF locomotives to make them flash, they are a railroad that has steady lights. Hope this helped. 

~FanOfTheRail

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