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Ditch-Crossing Lights - Gyrating Warning Lights

 

Ditch-Crossing  Lights

 

 

The Code of Federal Regulations (Sec. 229.133) states:

(1) Ditch lights.
(i) Ditch lights shall consist of two white lights, each producing a steady beam of at least 200,000 candela, placed at the front of the locomotive, at least 36 inches above the top of the rail.
(ii) Ditch lights shall be spaced at least 36 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the ditch lights is 60 inches or more.
(iii) Ditch lights shall be spaced at least 60 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the ditch lights is less than 60 inches.
(iv) Ditch lights shall be focused horizontally within 45 degrees of the longitudinal centerline of the locomotive.

(3) Crossing lights.
(i) Crossing lights shall consist of two white lights, placed at the front of the locomotive, at least 36 inches above the top of the rail.
(ii) Crossing lights shall be spaced at least 36 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the ditch lights is 60 inches or more.
(iii) Crossing lights shall be spaced at least 60 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the ditch lights is less than 60 inches.
(iv) Each crossing light shall produce at least 200,000 candela, either steadily burning or alternately flashing.
(v) The flash rate of crossing lights shall be at least 40 flashes per minute and at most 180 flashes per minute.
(vi) Crossing lights shall be focused horizontally within 15 degrees of the longitudinal centerline of the locomotive.

The following is an explanation definition of:
1) Ditch lights
2) Crossing lights
as they relate to the above:

Very simply, the definitions of the two terms are illustrated in the names themselves. Both are similar, in that they are designed to illuminate those portions of the track right-of-way that lie outside the area normally illuminated by the standard headlight. They are similar also in that they both typically use the same 200- or 350- watt sealed beam found in the standard headlight, and, thus, share the same narrow beam width.

"Ditch light" refers to the "ditch" or area of the right-of-way located immediately forward of the locomotive, to either side of the track that this light illuminates. These lights are designed to increase the visibility of the train crews themselves, thus providing an added margin of safety against potential hazards that might exist in those areas. This explains, also, the use of a wider focal angle than that recommended for "crossing lights."

On the other hand, as the name would seem to imply, "crossing lights" are used as much to provide a warning to motor vehicle operators located at highway/rail intersections at grade some distance ahead of an approaching train in its direction of travel as they are to provide better visibility for the train crews. In order to accomplish this a narrower focal angle is used to ensure that the light can be seen far enough up the track in advance of the arrival of the train at the crossing that it can provide adequate warning.

Generally, ditch lights are used in a steady burn mode. Crossing lights are set to flash at a minimum of 40 flashes per minute (maximum 180 flashes per minute).

Randall Dickinson
Grade Crossing Manager for the FRA
Clifton Park, New York


Sec. 229.133 refers to interim auxiliary lighting rules for conformance to 229.125(d-h).

The Code of Federal Regulations (Sec. 229.125) states:

(d) Effective December 31, 1997, each lead locomotive operated at a speed greater than 20 miles per hour over one or more public highway- rail crossings shall be equipped with operative auxiliary lights, in addition to the headlight required by paragraph (a) or (b) of this section. A locomotive equipped on March 6, 1996 with auxiliary lights in conformance with Sec. 229.133 shall be deemed to conform to this section until March 6, 2000. All locomotives in compliance with Sec. 229.133(c) shall be deemed to conform to this section. Auxiliary lights shall be composed as follows:
(1) Two white auxiliary lights shall be placed at the front of the locomotive to form a triangle with the headlight.
(i) The auxiliary lights shall be at least 36 inches above the top of the rail, except on MU locomotives and control cab locomotives where such placement would compromise the integrity of the car body or be otherwise impractical. Auxiliary lights on such MU locomotives and control cab locomotives shall be at least 24 inches above the top of the rail.
(ii) The auxiliary lights shall be spaced at least 36 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the auxiliary lights is 60 inches or more.
(iii) The auxiliary lights shall be spaced at least 60 inches apart if the vertical distance from the headlight to the horizontal axis of the auxiliary lights is less than 60 inches.
(2) Each auxiliary light shall produce at least 200,000 candela.
(3) The auxiliary lights shall be focused horizontally within 15 degrees of the longitudinal centerline of the locomotive.
(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.
(g) Movement of locomotives with defective auxiliary lights.
(1) A lead locomotive with only one failed auxiliary light must be repaired or switched to a trailing position before departure from the place where an initial terminal inspection is required for that train.
(2) A locomotive with only one auxiliary light that has failed after departure from an initial terminal, must be repaired not later than the next calendar inspection required by Sec. 229.21.
(3) A lead locomotive with two failed auxiliary lights may only proceed to the next place where repairs can be made. This movement must be consistent with Sec. 229.9.
(h) Any locomotive subject to Part 229, that was built before December 31, 1948, and that is not used regularly in commuter or intercity passenger service, shall be considered historic equipment and excepted from the requirements of paragraphs (d) through (h) of this section.

[45 FR 21109, Mar. 31, 1980, as amended at 61 FR 8887, Mar. 6, 1996]


The FRA has stated that the 2 auxiliary lights in the paragraphs d-h (above), must form the base of the triangle. It was also stated that the intent was that the lights be headlight lamps and not strobes.


The following information is taken from the Final Report (July 1995) of the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration entitled: Safety of Highway-Railroad Grade Crossings - Use of Auxiliary External Alerting Devices to Improve Locomotive Conspicuity DOT/FRA/ORD-95/13 DOT-VNTSC-FRA-95-10

The triangular pattern:
1) A light pattern that a would distinguish a locomotive from other vehicles
2) A pattern that aided in speed of approach of the oncoming locomotive.

 
It was stated that an individual has an increased perception of the velocity of an approaching locomotive by using a special arrangements of lights such as a triangular. The larger changes in the angular size of the 3 point triangular pattern aid in the information needed to make judgments at crossings.

 


ATSF No. 656 C44-9W (Dash 9-44CW)


NHN No. 1758 GP9
photo by: Pete Lester


Guilford No. 381 GP40
(Guilford's only GP40 with nose headlight: 5/2000)
photo by: Pete Lester


Guilford No. 212 GP35
photo by: Pete Lester


Guilford No. 684 SD45 - high nose
photo by: Pete Lester


CN No. 2454 C40-8M (Dash 8-40CM)
Note closeness of the lights... The FRA states that CN is "grandfathered in" on the lights as mounted and that new equipment will be in compliance to the Sec. 229.125(d) dimensions.


misc. photos of lighting on GRS locomotives:


Guilford No. 210 GP35 (pre "ditch lights")
photo by: Pete Lester


Guilford No. 690 SD39
Apparently, headlights were not turned back ON after a stop.
photo by: Pete Lester


Spots, Floods, Headlights, and the Triangular Pattern:

The following excerpt is taken from the Locomotive Conspicuity Report referenced above: "The standard headlight can provide a visual signal to motorists at grade crossings to indicate the approach of a train. However, the single point source of light, narrow beam width, and focus angle limits the ability of a motorist to recognize the approach of a locomotive or estimate its rate of approach."

Spot lamps are used out of the necessity of obtaining the most detail information at the greatest distance. The locomotive engineer needs the ability to take a course of action as it takes plenty of distance to stop the train if needed. A flood lamp would tend to give a wider angle of illumination, but the illumination is more diffuse as a result.

For an automobile, a spot lamp would be all wrong for several reasons including blinding traffic around you (automotive headlights direct the majority of their light to the ground but spots and floods direct the light directly outward) as well as being far too narrow (a typical headlight has at least a 30° beam spread - although that's not determined the same way spot and flood beam spreads are determined ... it can get a bit confusing and I don't want to mislead you here). An automobile driver needs to see a wider field than a more detailed field when driving. A train operator needs to see more detail at a farther distance since he doesn't determine the path the train goes (except maybe at a few select switches which he needs to be able to spot).

I went to the Locomotive Conspicuity Report web page you linked to me (albeit just chapter 4), and the only references for motorist conspicuity is to the triangular pattern of the 3 lamps - not necessarily the beam pattern emitted from each lamp. It's the fact that it's a triangle that allows motorists to identify the oncoming object as a train. And a higher peak intensity spot lamp will allow a motorist to identify the train at a greater distance than if it were just floods. I'd try this out. If you've got a long, untraveled area, setup three spots and three floods in a triangular pattern as you'd see on a train, go as far away as possible, and traveling toward the setups see which one can be first identified as three distinct sources rather than just one large glob of light.

I don't know if there is an angular cutoff at which on one side a lamp is considered a spot lamp and on the other it's considered a flood. The rule of thumb I'd say is if it's a narrow beam (around 10°) it's a spot and if it's a wide beam (around 50°) it's a flood.

Douglas G. Cummins - Calcoast ITL


 

I don't know if there is a specific number but looking at the spec guides Philips shows a 16 degree spot and a 24 degree flood in their mr16's.  GE shows a 20 degree narrow flood in their 50MR16/Q/20 and a spot in their Q35MR11/SP20. From that I would suspect that 20 degrees is the cut off.

John Devereux


 

Crossing of 2 auxiliary lights ("cross-eyed" lights):

The report of 1995 seemed to indicate that the crossing of the beams of the 2 auxiliary lights was the exception to what was being used. It appears that now (2000) this is the norm for most railroads (see below).

Canada:
There was a train derailment in 1974 caused by a mountain landslide that made ditch lights required in Canada. The idea that better visibility of the track right-of-way might have prevented this accident was the driving force to this mandate. The Canadian Pacific (CP) Railroad installed their ditch lights aimed inward so that they crossed at 150 feet at a point in front of the locomotive and the projections of which crossed the rails at 300 feet. To produce this relationship, the inward aim of the lights calculates at 1° for a distance of 5.3 ft between the 2 auxiliary lights. Having the auxiliary lights parallel to the tracks or at 0° was found to give adequate warning to motorists.

Australia:
It was found in Australia that increasing the angle of aim of the crossing lights outward, away from the centerline of the locomotive by (7.5 or 15 degrees) made only one of the 2 auxiliary lights visible on curves to motorists. It was found that lights angled inward by 7.5 degrees proved to be optimum for giving plenty of warning to motorists as well as providing increased illumination for the engineer. The lights so aimed maintained the triangular pattern of light more consistently over a greater distance. It did not blind the observer of the locomotive at various distance and inclination combinations.

Norfolk Southern was stated as also using the cross-eyed aim in the report. It was also stated that Burlington Northern had replaced the pairs of strobe units it was using with a sealed beam headlight crossing system. The report states that BN developed a laser aiming system whereby the beams of the crossing lights would intersect at 400 feet in front of the locomotive and continuing, would cross the opposite rails at 800 feet. This aiming seems to be the standard being used by other railroads also. BN's switch was said to be done to provide consistency with adjacent railroads. Also, it was stated that although the strobe had a long life cycle, it (assumed to mean flashtube) was not a standard replacement part.

The report concluded that the cross-eyed pattern afforded a wider beam and range in front of the locomotive and less blinding to the motorist.

 

Update (2000):
 
UP states that their ditch lights are aimed so as to cross at a point 400 feet in front of the locomotive and the continued projection intersecting opposite rails at 800 feet (in front of locomotive) For 2 lights, 60 inches apart, this calculates to 0.36° inward . Most RRs are using this pattern according to replies received (UP, Metra, CSX, NS, KCS, BNSF). Numerous replies from engineers seem to indicate that the "cross-eyed" aim of the lights is the best. Amtrak, however, is an exception:

This is to advise currently Amtrak's auxiliary lights are referred to as crossing lights versus the configuration used by some railroads referred as ditch lights. Amtrak also elects to direct these lights directly down the track parallel to the rail in both the vertical and horizontal plane. When they are activated by the engineer they do flash in an alternate sequence

George P. Binns - Amtrak rep.



Universal Term - "Ditch Lights" (2000):

It appears that the crossing light systems were originally wired as just that. Sounding of the locomotive horn would turn on the 2 auxiliary flashing lights for a preset interval (30 seconds are stated for certain RRs) or they could be manually activated by the engineer. Apparently these lights were originally made with the concept of "flashing" operation - which was the origin of their nomenclature (grade "crossing" lights). These lights were for the primary purpose of visibility of the locomotive to the motorists or pedestrians. The ditch lights, on the other hand, most likely originated for the benefit of visibility to the engineer or train crew.

There are locomotives that have both the flashing crossing lights with their maximum allowed 15 degree deviation from the centerline of the locomotive and the ditch lights with their maximum of 45 degrees, although this isn't common.

The 229.125 regulations do not require flashing operation at grade crossings, leaving that up to the railroads to decide. All 3 lights of the triangular pattern are required to be continuously illuminated.

There are 2 patents illustrating solid state IC circuitry entitled:
US Pat. 5,534,733 Digital Dimming And Flashing Circuit For Locomotive Ditch Lights
granted: July 9, 1996 - assigned to Meg Trans Corp.

US Pat. 5,646,435 Digital Dimming And Flashing Circuit For Locomotive Ditch Lights
granted: July 8, 1997 - assigned to Meg Trans Corp.

GE specifications list the 350PAR56/SP bulb as a "ditch light" bulb.

The trend of the contemporary usage of the 2 auxiliary lights encompasses functions both crossing lights and ditch lights.

The mounting requirements are identical for crossing and ditch lights, but the maximum horizontal angular aim for these lights is that of the crossing lights (15 degrees). This is to comply with the Sec. 229.125 mandate.

Metra states that the lights they use only allow for a maximum angular aim of 3° inwards or 3° outwards (total of 6°). In view of the angular inward aim to achieve the intersection of the beams at 400 feet (see above) this would appear sufficient.

The term most widely used now in describing these 2 lower auxiliary lights is "Ditch Lights". This appears to cause much confusion for definitive term to call these lights mandated by 229.125(d). They adhere to the aim specs. required for crossing lights in Sec. 229.133. They can be used without flashing, if individual RR rules allow and have a dual function of illuminating the roadbed as well as warning motorists and pedestrians.

I am not sure of the timeline, but when CP went to ditchlight use, they use permanently mounted units.

Over at CN, until the Canadian regulations changed, their ditchlights were usually referred to as "mountain lights", and were portable. The lights would be removed on units coming east and added to trains going west (don't know at what locations) At one time is was very unusually to see CN units in eastern Canada with ditchlights. Although, the empty mounting brackets would be clearly visible.

Timothy Organ

Notice that the term "mountain lights" is used here for "ditch lights" and also in the Gyralite Use chapter for the Gyralite unit on the roof of the F9As.


The single sealed beam headlight (ditch light structure) used by C&NW:

These were used as a warning light. Their function was similar to that of the single Gyralites with a Red lens (17550/17570): warning of derailment (or other emergency) especially in double track areas. The C-1785-RB light consisted of a PAR-56 bulb and a Red lens. These were steady burn lights (no flashing circuitry).

Here are some of the units whose warning lights may have survived into the early 1970's, according to that mechanical department stuff:

ALCO RSD-5 1689, 1690: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

ALCO RSD-5 1686 to 1688: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

ALCO RSD-5 1684, 1685: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

ALCO RSD-5 1665 to 1667: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

ALCO RS-3 1621 to 1623: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

F-M H-16-66 1668 to 1673: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, P.N. TYPE C-1785-RB

EMD SD-9 1721, 1722, 1724: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD SD-9 1703 to 1707: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD SD-9 1701 to 1702: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD SD-7 1661 to 1664: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD GP-9 1711 to 1716, 1718 to 1720: 2 SIGNAL LIGHTS, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD GP-7 1636 to 1640, 1650 to 1653, 1655 to 1659: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

EMD GP-7 1625 to 1628, 1630 to 1635, 1641 to 1649: 1 SIGNAL LIGHT, PYLE NATIONAL C-1785-RB

Every last one of them is a single red light on a hood unit. I can't tell you what the covered wagons had. The ALCOs also often had the odd Nathan M3 horn with the oblique and oddly flared "T" bell in the center position, pointing up and over the edge of the cab roof. Very odd units, overall, and confined mainly to the line running from Huron, SD to Waseca, MN, and on into Wisconsin.

Griff Hamilton


The SB-2000 is a single headlight unit that was also used as a signal light (Mars Light chapter) by C&NW. A red glass roundel was most likely used in this case.


 


RI No. 258 U28B
photo by: Brian Paul Ehni (Houston, TX - Oct. 1976)


crop of above photo


RI No. 631 E6
photo by: Dick Tinder (Winter 1969)

Dick (photo above) said his opinion is that the lights were a precursor to what are called "ditch lights" these days and that RI was just experimenting with trying to improve visibility.

Brian (photos above) stated that he remembered seeing a locomotive with these lights at night 25 years ago - and that the lights alternated, as do today's ditch lights. He said he heard that the lights were more of a visibility test item.


 

Those lights up in the corners were relatively late add-ons that were not there when built. They showed up in the '70's. They were not normally on when running, if I remember correctly.

Both of those units you linked to (URLs sent) were considered U28B's by the RI, and the location of one of the photos looks like it is the Silvis deadline. Some U25B's (like #209 and #228) had these lights for a while, too, but they were not on the majority of either of these classes of units.

The Rock Island had its hangups (like no dynamic brakes) and they were not big on motor-driven lights in anything other than F/E units. Why they tried this experiment is beyond me.

Looking at the size/shapes of the housings, I think we can rule out any mechanical mechanisms being involved. If they did flash, this would strike me as a real departure, as the Rock Island just didn't go in for Gyralites/Mars/Oscitrols on their other hood units. Very strange.

I did find a photo in Phil Hastings' book "Remember the Rock," showing #228 crossing the Cedar River in 1979, and the lights are on the unit at that time. Unfortunately, you can't tell what is going on as far as illumination, but it looks like neither are lit up, while the dual headlight definitely is. Also in the book is an early 1980 partial shot of #209 (or so it says) with the light, but it is trailing, so no information is gained there.

In Louis Marre's book "Rock Island Diesel Locomotives," there is also a partial shot of #243 showing the lights (in 1975), and unknown unit shot in 1970 according to the caption. Diesel Era Vol 4, #3 shows 209 with the light in 1975, Vol 6, #1 shows a rear view of a unit with the lights (also in 1975). It looks like #225-238 went to the Maine Central, while #242, 244, 246, 248 and 254 went to Transkentucky Transportation ( a dealer, I think). Maybe they still exist? Engines #201, 203, 210 and 222 were rebuilt to slugs, and #207 and 208 were retired by 1980. Engines #212 and 221 were rebuilt to U28B standards after wrecks. Units #200, 202, 214, 216, 218, 219, 220, 240, 241, 247, 249 and 256 were cut up at Silvis, IL in 1981. They are long gone. As for the rest, I don't know their fate.

Obviously, the lights were on some units by 1975, and if the caption is correct on the one, by 1970.

Two of everything on the Rock (the "Noah's Ark" of American railroads), but a few more than that as far as these lights are concerned. Another interesting twist is that I can't find any shots of RI EMD power with them!

Griff Hamilton


 

I remember thos lights in the late 60's/early 70's on U25B and U28B engines. I never saw them lighted, but a friend told me they used them at grade crossings and they would alternate similar to what some ditch lights do when the horn was blown. It seems that they were gone before 1977......

James Bernier


 

Sounds like a high-mount predecessor of the flashing ditch lights, but the thought of the Rock going to the trouble of putting an electro-pneumatic switch in those things...

On the other hand, they did try the electric toilet in some units, too.

Just think if the Rock had put two on the corners of the roof and two on the pilot, then alternated the four of them. It would get motorist's attention if anything could. Frankly, I liked the Chicago Central's "flash at the crossing" ditch lights, and I still think they are a good idea.

Griff Hamilton


 

Timothy Organ sent an article entitled: “GUILFORD – Five Years of Change” by Scott Hartley which shows both roof lights and headlights illuminated on the RI 228. Griff also found 228 in operation with both roof lights and headlight illuminated in Phil Hasting’s book, mentioned above. (The Guilford article’s photo of the 228 also shows a pair of roof mounted 360° strobes.

 

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