Saturday, March 15, 2008

Torpedo Requiem

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you are aware, on April 14, 2008, a significant milestone in regulatory reform shall be upon us — one that cries out for acknowledgement. That is the date which, perhaps, will live in infamy for torpedo manufacturers, but it heralds the official end of the Federal requirement to have and use torpedoes for rear end flag protection (and also protection to the front, but only if a railroad’s operating rules had required it). Torpedoes are (or were) an antiquated signaling device that have essentially outgrown their practical usefulness. Further, railroad operating rules and methodologies are such today that virtually every railroad in the country meets at least one of the five exceptions to flag protection listed in § 218.37(a)(2) at all times and at all locations. I am not aware of any railroad today that requires protection against following trains on the same track. If there is, they would still have to comply with § 218.37(a)(1), but with respect to flagman’s signals (hmmm, I suppose that should be flagperson’s signals — we’ll get around to that next time), they would still need to provide the appropriate red flags and white lights, and the requisite number of fusees when providing the protection, but no torpedoes (unless they choose to). Lest I be termed ungrateful for ignoring the many years that torpedoes did actually soldier on by serving the railroad industry in the prevention of rear-end collisions, in tribute to their long years of faithful service in discharging that function, I have composed a short tribute to their passing from the scene in the attached “Requiem for Torpedoes.” I would be remiss in my responsibilities as a railroad historian if I permitted this date to pass without some form of recognition. Upon assimilating it, silent reflection is authorized, as appropriate.


Dennis Yachechak
Operating Rules Program Manager
Federal Railroad Administration
Washington, DC


Requiem for Torpedoes
(August 1, 1977 - April 14, 2008)

(With profound apologies to Robert Frost)

Something there is that doesn’t love a torpedo,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under them
And spills the upper ballast in the sun,
And cause a sound that only two can make.
The work of flagmen is another thing:
I have come after them and made reduction
Where they have left not two but one
But they could jolt a rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping Feds. The sound I mean,
No one had seen them placed or heard them placed,
But round the next bend I find them there.
I let the flagman know beyond the hill;
And on this day we meet to walk the line
And set the torpedoes once again.
We keep the distance between us as we go.
To each the torpedoes have fallen to each.
And some are round and some so nearly square
We have to use a strap to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on opposite sides. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the torpedo:
I am all noise and he is deaf to it.
My flagman will never get across
And protect his train, I tell him.
He only says, “Good torpedoes make good protection.”
Spring is he mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in their heads:
“Why do they make good protection? Isn’t it
Where there are other trains? But here there are no other trains.*
Before I required torpedoes I’d ask to know
What I was protecting or protecting against,
And to whom I was likely to give offense.**
Something there is that doesn’t love a torpedo,
That wants them knocked down.” I could say “Nuts” to him,
But it’s not nuts exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a torpedo grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He places them in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good torpedoes used to make good protection.”

“Sic Transit Gloria Mundi Torpedoes”

*TWC territory – absolute blocks negating need for flag protection to the rear.
**Such as expensive condos and townhouses adjacent to the tracks.

[from the R&LHS Newsgroup. Courtesy of Martin K. O'Toole.]