TxDOT rail investigators battle heat, rattlesnakes to keep railroads safe
Battling the Texas heat, rattlesnakes and more, TxDOT rail investigators travel the state to keep trains and drivers safe around the tracks.
Texas has more railroad mileage than any other state in the nation – more than 10,000 miles of tracks. To help keep those tracks safe, TxDOT employs rail investigators, carrying out such duties as:
- Conducting freight and commuter rail safety inspections.
- Monitoring railroads for compliance with federal regulations and railroad operating rules.
- Investigating railroad accidents and complaints.
- Responding to miscellaneous railroad information requests, including requests for clearance deviations.
- Serving as liaisons to the Federal Railroad Administration in matters relating to rail safety.
“Texas connects ports on the Gulf Coast to the plains of the Midwest and is often the starting point for goods shipped from Mexico to the east and west coasts,” TxDOT Rail Division Director Jeff Davis said. “Although much of this trade occurs on our highway system, a significant amount is also transported on our extensive rail network, and we want that system to operate as safely as possible.”
Sterling Teague, a TxDOT rail safety investigator who specializes in inspecting locomotive power and equipment, examines train cars and engines in rail yards. He works to ensure equipment is in good condition, hazardous materials are stored properly and rail workers are wearing proper protective gear and following safety precautions.
“I used to work for railroads, so I know what to look for in terms of what goes on, on the tracks and in the cars,” Teague said. “And of course, we all have training from TxDOT and certifications from the state and federal government in our specialties. Our goal is to keep everyone safe, from the train operators to rail workers to the traveling public.”
Safety violations aren’t the only thing rail investigators watch out for. Some Texas railroads are out in very remote areas of the state and encounter other hazards.
“Just like any job, we do encounter several hazards while conducting track inspections," said Luie Sanchez, lead track investigator in Midland. "As we all know, it gets extremely hot during the summer months in West Texas and one of the biggest dangers we encounter while performing walking inspections are rattlesnakes. I walk many miles in very remote areas of the state and the chances of walking by/near a rattler are pretty high.”
Much of this work takes place outside the eyes of the traveling public, but drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians do often find themselves at railroad crossings.
All Texans can help TxDOT investigators keep railways safe in Texas by always stopping at tracks when the lights are flashing and arms are down. And if for any reason your or another’s car—or anything else—is stuck on the tracks, look for the blue sign on the railroad crossings and call the number there for help.