Rail Awareness in Nevada

Coffee Tracks - West End of the UP Sparks Yard

Little did we know of the excitement that would occur during our Coffee Tracks time at the Union Pacific Sparks Yard! As the "pack" of RATS began to gather, the scanner alerted us to an event taking place in the yard by one of the tracks. A  railroad worker discovered a residential propane tank with, "Do No Touch" written on it, sitting next to one of the tracks. In the RAT (Rail Auxiliary Team) world, this is a big red flag for potential problems. We listened to the scanner as a group, hoping to hear what had happened. Read to the end to find out the result 😀.

Our first visual observation was a white male wearing a red jacket and carrying some sort of bag walking east along main track one. We discussed our decision to report or not report to RMCC  (Remote Management Communications Center) and decided not to report, as there were rail employees around the yard that would see him and he was not directly on the tracks, just on railroad property. Once again, read to the end to find out what happened 😀.

Tank Cars

There were several tank cars sitting on the tracks at our meeting spot, so our discussion/educational time turned to tank cars.

We started at the bottom of the railcar and worked our way to the top, learning about each of the tank car specific characteristics: bottom outlet valves, tank jackets, head shields, reflective stripes, crash box, protective hatch cover over the valves, the pressure relief valve along with how to identify the owner of the car and the type of hazardous material if necessary.

The video does a great job of explaining what we learned, plus more: Railroad Tank Cars: Capacity, Dimensions, History (

Another excellent video stressing the safety of tank cars can be found at this link: Rail Tank Car 101 - YouTube.

Meeting the Supervisor

When you get a "pack"of RATS in orange vests hanging around the tracks, they get noticed! As we were discussing how a yard functions and all of the tracks available for switching, a truck approaches and out get two Union Pacific employees. After stating, "When you see a large group of people in orange vests hanging out in the yard, we figured we needed to find out what was going on.", they kindly asked what we were doing. Our faithful leader Rich Gent gave them a brief synopsis of the purpose of the Rail Auxiliary Team. It was nice to actually meet the Supervisor of the Sparks Yard. Interesting discussions about several topics took place and then one brave RAT asked the Supervisor what the outcome was of the residential propane tank with, "Do No Touch" written on it, sitting next to one of the tracks. He shared with us that he approached the tank, and since he had previous Army experience, he looked for wires attached to the tank, saw none, so proceeded to pick up the tank and put it in the bed of his truck. RAT members, or anyone for that matter, if you come across something like this - DO NOT TOUCH, back away and call 911 immediately. 

The Trespasser

As we were ending our meeting, another alert came over the scanner. A railroad worker put out the call that there was a man with a machete by main tracks one and two. We didn't see anyone from our vantage point. A few moments later, a Sparks PD vehicle pulls up next to us and the officer exits his vehicle. The conversation turns to the trespasser with a machete. Someone asked for the description and sure enough it was the trespasser we had seen at the beginning of our meeting. One of our RATs had taken a zoomed in photo of the trespasser and was able to share that with the officer. Was the trespasser caught? No idea.

What one person thought would be a boring meeting turned out to be an exciting learning time. Make sure to join us for our next RAT Coffee Tracks time on May 18th at a to be determined location. You don't want to miss the excitement!


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