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Engineer - Gyrating Warning Lights


An  Engineer's  Viewpoint



20585 Gyralite


original message posted to newsgroup (9/4/98) :

In regard to Amtrak's F40's:

They also have those silly (IMHO) white strobe lights which can be activated either continuously or only when the whistle is blown by turning a switch on the control stand. I've always considered them next to useless for attracting attention. For my money, the oscillating Gyralite is the ONLY way to go but since the FRA does not mandate it and railroads and transit operators try to save money at every turn, they are becoming history.

The FRA seems to feel that the ditch lights will be sufficient. They don't seem to get the idea that the MOVING Gyralite is what attracts attention. Let me sum it up this way: I have never had a collision with a vehicle at a grade crossing where the driver said, "I didn't see you" but I've had a nasty collision and several near-misses with the strobes where the driver said those words.

Also, the Gyralite "sweeps" the track and I find it especially useful in Tunnel #4 going south (RR east) to find the spot to set the air for the Bayshore stop. (There are distinctive stains on the tunnel wall that the headlight and ditch lights miss.) I remember watching a live TV traffic helicopter report on a fatality at Menlo Park one morning. From the air you could see the trains backed up with their oscillating lights. I'm going to miss them.

Bob Castiglione


reply to email regarding posted message (9/12/98) :


To start off--Yes, I am a locomotive engineer currently working for Amtrak, the contract carrier for the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the operators of Caltrain made up of 9 members, 3 each from the 3 counties in which Caltrain runs: San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

I hired out with SP in 1973 as a switchman and transferred to engine service in 1977 attaining the position of engineer in Feb. 1978. SP ran things then but was trying desperately to get out of running "the commutes." The State of California took over the financial end approximately in 1980 and the PCJPB has run it since July 1, 1992. That marked the end of SP's involvement. When Amtrak started hiring their own crews in the late 80's, I went to work for them on the long-hauls out of Oakland from 1987 to 1990 when SP recalled me due to a shortage of engineers. Then in 1992, when the PCJPB took over, I again went with Amtrak where I've been working the San Francisco night pool ever since.


In regard to Chicago's Metra and KCS's endorsed use of the Gyralite:

Kudos to Metra and KCS for seeing the value of them. The staff of the PCJPB is very cost-conscious and its rail director, Jerry Kirzner, is from SEPTA. As you pointed out in your site, northeasterners aren't tuned in to the value of the oscillating lights. Such is the case here. The board members are political appointees and only one of the 9 has a strong rail background so they pretty much accept what the staff puts in front of them. Our locomotive committee (BLE Div. 65) had to put together persuasive arguments in cost savings before they changed their minds about adding separate HEP and blended brakes to 15 of the 20 locomotives that are just now being rebuilt.

It's funny. You work on these things day in and day out but try and describe all the gizmos and the mind goes blank. The oscillating light on the engine has a switch on the control stand that allows you to stop it in a position, inch it or let it run. The cab cars do not have this feature. Both engine and cab car have two oscillating white lights AND a separate oscillating red light. The cab car also has a small yellow light which illuminates inside the cab if a sealed beam goes out.

You bet I think they're an asset. They "catch" things that stationary lights cannot such as trespassers lurking in the shadows, flags, etc. We run on double track but because of the design of our stations (except Palo Alto and Lawrence) only one train can enter at a time. At night, the oscillating headlight allows us to know where the meet will occur without having to use the radio as much of our ROW is curvy but we can see the light reflecting off of buildings or the sky. And they're the best attention-getters. You see one and it just screams "Train Coming!!!" As I said in my post, I'm going to miss them.

Bob Castiglione