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7 Reasons Why Trains Stop

Many people have been through the frustrating process of reaching a train crossing only to find that a train has stopped blocking all passage over the railway.

The worst-case scenario is that the train only moves after 20 minutes, making everybody late. Why do trains seemingly stop for nothing?

Here are 7 reasons why trains stop.

1. When Shipping Goods

Shipping essential goods by train are the most cost-effective way of moving cargo.

Trains will stop at the loading point (where the cars get loaded with the product it needs to ship) and again at the final drop-off point (where the product gets collected). When loading and unloading goods, a train will use a siding track (similar to a pit lane in motor racing).

A siding can be described as a section of track separate from the main line. Industrial sidings link to mines, factories, and piers. Trains will enter on the siding track, stopping at the loading point before making their way to the main line to ship the goods to their destination.

From automobiles, hazardous materials, mining materials, containers, and special cargo, trains are vital in the transport industry.

Unloading and loading cargo is a non-stop exercise when dealing with freight trains. When cars behind the train need to be coupled to or uncoupled from the current train, the train stops so that the workers may do the necessary actions by adding or subtracting cars.

2. At A Red Stop Signal

Railway lines are categorized into blocks. Various blocks (sections) of the track can only safely accommodate one train at a time. Signaling kits affixed to different sections of these blocks of track monitor trains entering and leaving.

A signal system found trackside controls entry into each section of the track using multi-colored lights, with red being an absolute signal and an instruction that the approaching train must stop.

Red lights stop trains for other trains to pass them. A railway traffic system controls trains moving in the same direction, trains moving in opposite directions on the same railway line, and trains moving on intersecting tracks.

Red lights are typically found at interlockings, at the end of passing sidings, drawbridges, railway crossings, and where main tracks cross over each other. Trains must stop when a red light indicates a complete stop to ensure the safety and flow of all trains on a specific railway system.

3. Picking Up And Dropping Off Passengers

As trains are one of the most prevalent modes of public transportation, this is the most obvious reason for a train to stop. Each day, a passenger train will depart from a station, picking up and dropping off passengers at various stations on a set route.

Delays can occasionally occur due to unforeseen circumstances, but generally, trains adhere to a rigorous timetable to guarantee that their passengers arrive at their destinations on time.

Unfortunately, there is only a limited time for individuals to board or exit the train, and it cannot wait for those who are late.

4. Dropping Off And Picking Up Operating Teams

Trains are kept on track by a team, or crew, typically consisting of a conductor and an engineer. Freight train crews work shifts that can’t exceed 12 hours as per government-prescribed hours of service, which translates to two or more operating teams required per day to operate a train that runs non-stop.

Many freight trains operate 24/7 with a team of relieving crew members that operate the train according to a shift schedule.

When one crew finishes their shift, the train will stop to drop them off while simultaneously picking up the take-over crew working the next shift.

Depending on the destination and route of the train, crew members can either go home or stay over in hotels when far from home, resting up for the next shift.

5. Dangerous Track Conditions

Trains don’t have the same luxury as automobiles which can switch lanes and brake instantly to avoid possible accidents, as they are fixed to a route on a single track.

When a train operator is informed or spots anything dangerous on the track ahead, the train will brake immediately, stopping until the danger is cleared.

What conditions are deemed dangerous on railway tracks? When any lifeforms are crossing tracks (humans and animals) or if any object is obstructing a train’s safe passage, such as another train or other stationary vehicles, it’s deemed as dangerous conditions.

Nature can also make a train stop on the tracks when dumping a boulder avalanche on the railway tracks in rocky areas or when debris from a storm finds its way onto the railway system. 

Heavy storms can also force a dispatcher to stop a train from entering an affected section, as ice and heavy snow can affect switches, and power supply to signals and grade crossings, when power outages occur.

6. When Defects Are Detected

Dangerous operational conditions that can force a train to stop are usually identified by defect detectors, which with the help of track sensors, help to relay operational issues found on a specific train to its conductor and engineer.

Mechanical and operational problems that can force a train to stop include axle problems, overheating wheels, a low air hose, and brake blocks.

Sliding, flat train wheels, overheating bearings, and loads shifting around are common issues that can force a train to stop when detected.

Trains will typically be inspected in a siding track so as not to disrupt the flow of the main track, but this isn’t always the case, as a train can become undone on the main railway line, causing approaching trains to slam on the brakes.

When defects are detected, the train will have to be checked by the operating team before being cleared by the dispatcher to continue.

7. When Forcibly Stopped By A Trip Stop

Trains are fitted with additional stopping mechanisms that assist trains in regulating their speed, ensuring that they adhere to general safety systems implemented on railway tracks, such as safety signals.

Trains feature safety mechanisms called a trip stop, which stops a train forcibly if it moves faster than it should or when a train disobeys a stop signal along the tracks. A trip arm and trip stop are the features capable of stopping a train when necessary.

You can learn how long it takes for a train to stop in this post.