From “Just What is a Train Dispatcher?” Copyright © 1992 Thomas A. White

Train dispatchers, unlike air traffic controllers who are not at all accessible to the public, must also handle with proper responses, problems reported by the public. Reports come regularly from individuals who have called the company switchboard to complain or to report a dangerous condition as well as from public emergency agencies that have the train dispatcher’s number for emergencies. Calls may cover noise from an idling locomotive disturbing people, a highway accident that blocks the track, fire equipment blocking the track, police officers requesting assistance in pursuit of suspects that have gotten on trains or searching for lost children, of suspected defects in the track or in passing trains or highway grade crossing signals that are defective. The dispatcher must be able to quickly identify the train and/or location regardless of the vagueness of the description by someone who knows nothing of the railroad’s geography, and immediately stop involved trains and call track or signal maintenance personnel. In cases involving public safety such as fire equipment or police on the track or on trains or when grade crossing signals are defective, the dispatcher must see that those involved are fully protected from train traffic. Any such occurrence will require recalculation of the dispatcher’s tactical plan as it affects the location and movement of trains. Dispatchers may even receive calls from the public which involve the territory of another dispatcher or even another railroad but must still take immediate action to protect trains and the public, themselves making calls to the proper train dispatcher or other personnel in that area. Trains experiencing defects to cars or locomotives will report to the dispatcher who in case of question must advise the procedure to follow, consulting with reference books or mechanical personnel as necessary. Track and signal maintenance workers encountering defective equipment or track structure report to the dispatcher who must ensure that all trains are issued the proper speed restrictions or other instructions before arriving at the defect. Vandalism to track and to signal equipment is a regular problem and presents the train dispatcher with the necessity of almost simultaneously protecting trains from the defect, recalculating the tactical plan and notifying law enforcement agencies.

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