Working Safely on the Railroad | Southern Museum

Safety on the Railroads

Children will love discovering the Working Safely on the Railroad exhibit, which uses previously unseen railroad items from the Museum's artifact and archival collections to promote safe working and traveling conditions. This is an interactive exhibit that focuses on the role Railroad Unions played in the development of safety and kids of all ages can learn railroad signals and other valuable safety information!

Working Safely on the Railroad

Railroad safety has evolved with the needs and the technology of the times. Safety regulations arose as rail transportation became essential to the American economic system, moving commerce and passengers from city to city. The primary champions of safety were the Railroad workers. These men and women formed labor unions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from accidents that occurred along the rails.

Labor unions, with the support of the United States Congress and the Interstate Commerce Commission, won battles against railroads on working hour limitations, wages, and equipment (such as couplers and air brakes). These safety changes became the standard on locomotives, the railcars they pulled, and train operations. This exhibit commemorates those who were crucial in the development of safety regulations and caused these changes to happen.

Engine Crew

The employees of the engine crew included the engineer and fireman. As a team, the engine crew worked inside the cab to safely operate the locomotive and monitor the pressure of the boiler.

The engineer managed the locomotive and engine crew, started and stopped the locomotive, and controlled the speed.

The fireman shoveled coal into the firebox of the locomotive. The fireman managed the fire, fuel, and water to ensure that the locomotive has sufficient power to pull freight or passengers. If there was too much or too little power, the train could become too fast or stop while traveling up grade (uphill).

Train Crew

The train crew was made up of several employees that included the conductor, brakemen, and flagmen. Each of these jobs were important for the safe operation of the train.

The conductor managed the train, checked the tickets of passengers, and controlled the movement of the train. The caboose was the conductor's office - from here signals were sent to the engineer, who rode in the front of the train. These signals gave instructions of when to start and stop the train. To ensure the safe movement of the train, it was essential that the conductor be alert to wayside signals and the position of switches.

Before airbrakes, the brakemen manually applied the brakes to each train car. There were two brakemen per train - the head brakeman and the rear brakeman. They rode on the top of the train cars and at the sound of a whistle signal from the engineer worked simultaneously to bring the train to a stop. The head brakeman started at the front of the train and the rear brakeman at the back; each turned an iron wheel which engaged the brakes. Once a railcar was completed, the brakemen jumped to the next railcar and met in the middle.

The flagmen set flares and warning devices along the track when an operational problem occurred or when a train was required to stop for an unusual reason and blocked the main set of tracks. The flagmen also stationed themselves at a visible point on the tracks to warn any oncoming train of the danger ahead.

Located in the Jolley Education Center, this new exhibit has been created in conjunction with the North American Railroad Foundation. For more information, contact 770.427.2117, ext 3174 or email email hidden; JavaScript is required.

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