Propane along the railroad is used to fuel switch heaters, which keep track switches from freezing during cold weather. These areas can be accessed by vagrants, vandals, juveniles for dumping furniture, trash and stolen cars. When responding to trash and vehicle fires along the tracks, request police and use extreme caution on approach for fires where tanks are exposed.

Derailment in Philadelphia PA.

 In electrified territory, an electrification system supplies electric power to trains without an on-board prime mover or local fuel supply. Locomotives operating on electrified railroads draw electric power from an overhead catenary or a third rail for traction. Amtrak's electrified territory utilizes overhead catenary lines that carry 12,000 volts of AC electrical power to propel trains. (Diesel-electric locomotives are often utilized with Amtrak's passenger trains on its electrified territory, CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks) THE CURRENT IN THESE CATENARY LINES CAN ARC UP TO 3 FEET AND ELECTROCUTE ANYONE NEARBY.

Even when power is shut down, these lines should be considered deadly until an on-site Amtrak Class-A employee (electrician or lineman) secures a grounding stick to overhead wires and installs the grounding wire from the stick to the rail.

Totally electric locomotives can be shut down either by lowering or latching pantographs or by de-energizing and grounding the catenary system. When either of these occur, the HEP will also shut down. To shut the HEP down in a diesel-electric locomotive, use the emergency shut-offs on the side of the locomotives.

For locomotive fires, it must be remembered that diesel-electric locomotives can travel under catenary wires, which are firefighters primary concern. Both electric and diesel-electric locomotives must be shut down prior to attacking the fire. The overhead catenary wires must also be shut down and grounded. Once that happens water can be used, but if burning fuel is present, the use of foam is highly recommended. NEVER APPLY WATER DOWN AN EXAUST STACK!


480 Volt HEP cables.

Pantographs can be lowered with a switch located in the operating cab. This de-energizes electrical equipment.

A railroad electrician will de-energize and properly ground the overhead catenary wires using grounding sticks.


TIP: Dropping a flare in the "gauge" (between the rails of the track) will be treated as a stop and proceed. This will allow the train, which will then travel at a restricted speed, to stop within half the distance of the reason the flare was put there.



Train platforms can be as long as 1000 feet long with no standpipe connections available. This train station (pictured above) has platforms of 600-850 feet long. It's an additional 100 feet to reach the closest standpipe upstairs inside the terminal. Waterways, railroad tracks, high voltage, security fences and a steep cliff prevent any other stretches from the pumper at THIS particular station outside the standpipe in the terminal. During fire preplans, prepare for fire in the furthest locomotive or passenger car from the standpipe connection. Be prepared for long hose stretches.

Trains can set off brush fires along the tracks. Be aware of passing trains when working close to the tracks.

On the Red Line in Boston, a failure in the trains propulsion system resulted in a burst of smoke that had passengers kicking out the windows in panic.

VIDEO N.Y: Six people were killed when a train struck a vehicle stuck on the RR crossing, pushing it 800 feet down the tracks bursting in flames. Investigators believe the front train car was ignited by the electrified third rail, but are still investigating.

It's also possible that the SUV the train hit burst into flames and the gasoline ignited the trains front car. NTSB investigating.

THIRD RAIL: A method of providing electric power to a railway train through a semi-continuous rigid conductor placed alongside or between the rails of a railroad track. Third rails are always DC (direct current) electricity.

LOCOMOTIVES are 'diesel electric' and driven by electric motors at the axles between the wheels. The third rail provides the electricity for the locomotive which carries diesel fuel that the engine uses to turn a generator that provides electricity in each locomotive. These locomotives generate their own energy so a third rail or overhead wires aren't always required.

This isn't going to end well...

Although rare, fires do take place in the passenger car.

Amtrak Diesel Locomotive Exterior Fuel Shut Off Location.

Do NOT park your fire apparatus on railroad tracks!

TIP: Train fires are often started by broken fuel lines spraying on exhaust manifolds, fuel or oil leaks, electrical and arson.

TIP:  In addition to electrocution dangers, there's the potential of being struck by a train going over 100 MPH. Every year in the U.S. railroads over 500 trespassers are struck and killed by speeding trains. Assign a safety officer to monitor approaching trains and alert personnel working in the area. The railroad is an extremely dangerous zone.

Safety on the tracks: Do not get complacent on the tracks where the potential for electrocution is high. Locomotives push & pull cars using a diesel powered engine to operate electric traction motors on wheel axels and can have up to 30,000 volts of AC to power the train. There's 600-750 volts of DC power on the third rails installed just above the running rails in 'electrified' territories. This DC power has to be removed and confirmed before fire personnel can approach the area. Overhead catenary lines are 12,000 volt copper electric trolley wires providing propulsion power for the electric locomotive and cars. High voltage cabinets can be found near tracks and on platforms.

ACELA trains travel at up to 125 MPH and have a semi-automatic fire suppression system in the equipment area of the power car. An audible warning alarm will alert the engineer who will acknowledge and have the ability to bypass the automatic operation. The alarm will sound in the machine room of the affected power car. The system uses carbon dioxide or other approved extinguishing agents. On both sides of the power car on the exterior are standard fire hose connections connected to piping and nozzles distributed throughout the equipment areas to enable flooding of the equipment area with water without having to obtain access to car.

Emergency fuel shutoffs are located inside the locomotive on the panel behind the engineer stand. (Must hold 3-6 seconds to shut down) Shutoffs are also located on both sides of the locomotive exterior marked in red.

Metro train fire in Maryland caused by faulty mechanical equipment. News footage of suspected cause.


LIGHT RAIL TRAINS: Most light rail trains are powered by overhead lines supplying electricity to the train which helps prevent passengers from stepping on electrified third rails. Others are powered by DEMU's (Diesel Electric Multiple Units) like the River Line (pictured above) which services Trenton to Camden  N.J. These DEMU's use a diesel engine, located in the middle car, that drives an alternator which produces AC current. This current can then be fed to electric traction motors in the wheels. Keep in mind that there are roof mounted compressor units and boiler/oil burners present to provide heat.

Fires in the motor compartment (middle car) involving diesel should be fought as a class B fire using AFFF foam, dry chemical or carbon dioxide extinguishers. AR-AFFF 3%-6% type of concentrate is designed to be used at the 3% application rate when used on a standard hydrocarbon fuel fire and 6% when used on a polar solvent/alcohol fuel. (Current 3% AR-AFFF type concentrate is designed for 3% application on either type group, i.e. 3% on hydrocarbons and 3% on polar solvent fuels. When AR-AFFF is used at the correct proportioning rate on hydrocarbon fuel, fire fighting performance and application rate are the same as for standard AFFF agents) For fires in passenger light rail cars, using water is acceptable, BUT a fog pattern is recommended as there may be up to 600 volts of residual current. (See below)

A catenary is a system of overhead wires used to supply electricity to a locomotive, streetcar, or light rail vehicle which is equipped with a pantograph. These trolley lines average 18-23 feet in height from the rail head and are energized between 12,000-27,000 volts AC. Transmission lines are 130,000-230,000 volts AC (and will jump 8 feet). STAY 15ft AWAY FROM ENERGIZED WIRES! Even de-energized can have as much as 5,000 volts residual current. Safe AFTER de-energized, grounded.

DMU's are in categories of Diesel Hydraulic, Diesel Mechanical and Diesel Electric, depending on how motive power is applied to the wheels. If a light rail train services your response area, find out how it's powered. REMEMBER to control the power and movement of a train before approaching and have travel shut down in one or both directions. When there's a fire on a light rail train, the operator is supposed to shut off the circuit breaker, shut down the engine and stop the train. CONFIRM THIS before approaching. If using water for extinguishment, be very cautious as there may be up to 600 volts of residual current even after the breaker is shut off. Fire extinguishers located in each motor coach may not be reliable for extinguishment.

Light Rail, NOT Light Rail Transit

To remove windows from the outside remove the gasket around the window.

Burning trains can produce an incredible amount of thick black toxic smoke.

Train station structure fire in Hackensack NJ. Do the trains need to be stopped?

Fire on the rail. Watch the explosion at 00:30. DO NOT go near the third rail until power has been secured.

This Amtrak fire in Wilmington DE. forced the evacuation of 180 passengers. Smoke entering the train station forced additional evacuations. Some concerns here are passenger control, panic, difficult access, electrocution, water supply and time of day.

The electrocution potential near the tracks are extremely high. Stay away from the tracks until power is secure.

Standpipe connections may not be located on the platform, but ABOVE inside the station. If the station only has escalator access going down to the platform, activate the emergency stop button, make it a staircase and stretch down to the platform. 

This Amtrak locomotive fire started in the engine. Dry chem and Class B foam are the best methods for extinguishing these fires. Some locomotives are now equipped with automatic fire suppression systems.

Confirm that the trains movement is stopped. Shut down travel in both directions. Watch the overhead catenary wires exposed to fire. STAY AWAY! Await confirmation that power is secure or AC power has been removed and catenary wires are grounded.

Locomotive train fuel shutoffs are clearly marked. Some locomotives carry between 1800-2400 gallons of diesel fuel. Consider locomotive fires electrical (C) until proven otherwise. Use dry chem extinguishers. DO NOT use a straight stream on electrical cabinets/high voltage areas.

TIP: NEVER stretch a line onto a passenger train until you get confirmation from the Conductor and Engineer that the trains movement is secure. (Inquire about the hand brakes in the control car)

SUPERVISOR:The Conductor is in charge of the train. The Engineer is in charge of the locomotive/control car.

CAUTION:Do NOT walk between or under the cars with the HEP cables (Head End Power) 480 Volt AC power.


Fire departments respond to a variety of railroad emergencies inside the terminal, along the tracks, or on the platform. Emergency incidents can involve train fires, alarm activations, pin/crush extrications, EMS, suicides, derailments, elevator rescue, gas leaks, propane leaks, electrical incidents, switch heater fires, brush fires, bomb threats (terrorism) and structure assignments within the station or attached occupancies such as parking garages or restaurants.


When a passenger train catches fire the engineer will attempt to make it to the next station platform or another safe area to evacuate the passengers. 

While en route to these assignments, company officers should have their dispatcher contact Transit Police and meet them on arrival at the station or track location if possible. Depending on the emergency, the company officer may have to contact their fire dispatcher to notify the railroad dispatcher if train travel needs to be stopped, and in what direction. Transit police can also notify their dispatch to halt trains. Preplans with railroad emergency management will determine proper agency notification.

It's important for all firemen to familiarize themselves with the railroad tracks and train stations in their response area. Know the layout of the station and track numbers, the locations of the standpipe, FDC, knox box, elevators, escalators, alarm panel, transit police and mechanical rooms. Become familiar with high voltage overhead catenary lines, electrified third rails, Diesel Mechanical Units (DMU's) and what trains service the tracks. (Amtrak, Transit, CSX, SEPTA, Northeast Corridor)


Common sense and proper apparatus placement can prevent disasters like this.

Do you have the tools, manpower and a plan? Secure the movement of the train. WATCH bystanders free this man.

CTA train pulls up to the platform and catches fire. Secure power on third rail and confirm movement is stopped.