Roadway Worker Protection regulations (RWP) were implemented by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in 1997. RWP regulations are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 Part 214, or 49 CFR 214. RWP rules apply not only to payroll employees of a railroad but also to contract employees. Contract employees are expected to be trained in and comply with RWP rules, and they are subject to fines and penalties for violations.

Part 214 Railroad Workplace Safety applies basically to those employees of a railroad whose jobs require that they work on tracks, rail structures and signals. The three main sections of this regulation are Bridge Worker Safety Standards; Roadway Worker Protection; and On-Track Roadway Maintenance Machines and Hi-Rail Vehicles. This article is primarily intended to explain the RWP section of these regulations to surveyors who may need to work on or near a railroad track in the performance of their job.

RWP applies when a worker is working on a track or within four feet of the field side of either rail of a track. The forms of protection vary with the kind of track and/or operational rules that govern movements over that section of track. The methods of protection include exclusive use of track, foul time, train coordination, watchman, definite train location, informal lineup, and individual train detection.

Foul Time and Exclusive Use of Track

Foul time and exclusive use of track are similar because they involve a section of track controlled by a train dispatcher or control operator. Normally these are main-line tracks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean one can tell by looking at the track. The railroad employee must know the rules governing movements over the track.

When using these forms of protection, a railroad employee or roadway worker in charge (RWIC) at the scene with the surveyor will contact the train dispatcher or control operator and obtain either authority to foul the track or exclusive use of track. There will be an exchange of information between the RWIC and the dispatcher or operator that should include the track name and number, limits of the protection, name of the RWIC, time limits, date and time obtained and, normally, a sequence number. The dispatcher or control operator will block signals and/or switches to prevent other movements to the RWIC’s track.

In multiple-track territory, the RWIC must advise everyone who is being protected on which track(s) he or she is providing protection. The RWIC should communicate to the surveyor the exact limits of protection. This is especially critical when the surveyor’s work requires multiple setups or observations along a track. It is not necessary for the RWIC to remain with the surveyor, but the surveyor should have a copy of the track authority and/or know the limits, form number, name of the RWIC and how to contact the RWIC. The primary difference between foul time and exclusive use of track is the kind of work a railroad is allowed to perform. Normally, more extensive repairs and longer duration jobs are done under exclusive use of track.

If the railroad has other work planned on the section of track where a surveyor needs to work, RWP rules allow the RWIC to include other work groups. There may be on-track equipment, high-rail vehicles, and/or work trains. Some railroads even allow revenue trains to pass through or into track controlled by an RWIC. All movements on track controlled by an RWIC are made at the direction of the RWIC and are usually restricted in speed. It is the RWIC’s responsibility to brief all of the work groups about the existence of the other work groups and where they will be working and what they will be doing. A job briefing should be held at the beginning of each project with additional briefings as conditions change.

Train Coordination

Train coordination may be established between an RWIC and a train when there is only one train authorized to work on a section of track. The RWIC and train must be in sight of each other, and the train must be stopped in order to initiate train coordination. Once train coordination has been established, it is no longer required that the RWIC and train remain within sight. Information is written on a form about the train symbol or engine number, engineer or conductor, and the time and date the train coordination was obtained. The train must operate at the direction of the RWIC under rules that restrict its speed. If the train moves outside of the section of track that includes the surveyor’s work limits, another form of protection must be used.

Inaccessible Track

Inaccessible track is protection for work on tracks not controlled by a dispatcher or control operator. Normally, these are yard- and railroad-owned industrial tracks and may be controlled by a yardmaster, trainmaster or other employee, but not a dispatcher or operator.

The RWIC must obtain permission from the controlling employee and then establish positive protection against train movements onto that section of track. Positive protection may include lining and locking a switch or switches against movement to a track, removing a section of rail, or installing derails and locking them with private locks. A derail is a device designed to intentionally derail trains or other on-track equipment. A private lock could be the surveyor’s private lock, but it is usually a lock designated by the maintenance of way (MOW) department or engineering department on a railroad. Some switches may require railroad-type private locks.

Watchman Rules

Watchman rules may be used on main tracks, yards and industrial tracks and in interlockings. When working under watchman rules, the watchman must remain with the surveyor but clear of all tracks. The track remains “live” for the movement of trains, and the surveyor’s only protection is getting a warning from the watchman to clear the tracks.

There are requirements that the watchman be able to observe trains approaching in sufficient time to clear the tracks and that the watchman be able to reach out and touch or have another means of communicating with the surveyor, such as a whistle or air horn. A watchman can do no other jobs while he or she is watching, including talking on a cell phone. In very noisy areas, watchman rules would not be permitted. If members of the survey crew are fouling the track at various locations, it would be necessary to use multiple watchmen or another form of protection.

To be a watchman, a railroad employee must be trained and qualified on the RWP regulations, operational and safety rules of the railroad, the rules in effect over the line where protection is being provided, and the physical characteristics of the track. Normally, RWP training ranges from a half day to a full day, and annual retraining is required. A railroad would probably not allow a surveyor to provide his own watchman.

Definite Train Location and Informal Lineup of Trains

Definite train location and informal lineup of trains are older forms of protection, which most railroads have moved beyond for the protection of employees. The FRA is attempting to have them phased out, but there may be some small railroads where they are still used. A surveyor, on learning he or she is protected by either of these forms of protection, should get as much information as possible about the time limits for occupying the track and when to expect trains.

Individual train detection (ITD) or lone-worker rules apply to an employee who is working alone and has no other form of protection other than his or her own alertness. These are usually walking track inspectors, but there are other occasions when ITD protection is allowed. ITD cannot be used in interlockings or remotely controlled hump yards, but they may be used on any other track where sight distances allow sufficient time for clearing the tracks and noises do not interfere with listening for trains. When working under ITD protection, the employee must fill out and carry a form indicating the date and time effective, the location, speed of trains and the sight distance needed for sufficient warning. A surveyor should not expect a railroad to allow him to work under ITD rules.


An interlocking on a railroad may be similar to an intersection on a highway. When traffic going one direction has the green light, opposing moves have a red light. In interlockings, tracks may cross each other, there may be switches or moveable bridges or combinations of all of the above, but they are interlocked, so opposing moves may not be allowed. An interlocking may be shorter than a hundred feet or a section of track(s) a mile long or longer. There is no typical interlocking. They will appear in the timetable, and track employees are expected to know their locations.

Unlike a highway intersection, where some drivers nose over the white line prior to the light turning green, track limits are absolute. Violations of track limits are considered major infractions. A train crew or track-car driver and all others involved can be subject to immediate alcohol and drug testing and removal from service for violating track limits, even by as little as a foot or less. As a result, a contract employee may be told his or her services are no longer necessary, or someone being provided protection for on a non-railroad job may be told not to return.


When a surveyor is working on a railroad, he or she may be approached by other railroad employees, a safety committee or an official of the FRA. These people all have the right to inquire about the form of protection being provided. The surveyor should have that information in hand and comply with the request, whether working for the railroad or on a non-railroad survey.

When working under these rules, with the exceptions given above, the methods of protecting the safety of those fouling the track are the same whether one is an engineering railroad employee, a contractor contracted with the railroad, or someone doing his or her own project. The differences are personal responsibility and financial responsibility.

A surveyor contracted with the railroad will probably be furnished RWP rules but can be held responsible for FRA violations. The surveyor using the railroad to locate adjacent property lines will probably have to pay for RWP protection but would not be a roadway worker. According to Section 214.7 Definitions, “Employee means an individual who is engaged or compensated by a railroad or by a contractor to a railroad to perform any of the duties defined in this part.” In the author’s opinion, a surveyor in contract to do a track layout for a railroad, which requires fouling a live track, would be classified as a railroad employee under this definition. As an employee under this definition, the surveyor becomes a roadway worker and is subject to know and abide by the roadway worker rules.

Some railroads may use train and engine service (T&E) employees to protect non-employee surveyors when working on a track. Since T&E employees are not roadway workers, RWP would not apply, although the T&E employee may use some of the same forms of protection available to roadway workers. They may also use orders, which may be called dispatcher orders, bulletin orders or train orders, issued to all trains and track personnel notifying them not to pass a certain location without first getting permission from the T&E employee. A surveyor should keep the same notes with the T&E employee’s name and how he or she is being protected. If a surveyor is working for the railroad and doing work that could be classified as roadway work, then the surveyor should be protected by a roadway worker.


Railroad safety and operating rules vary from railroad to railroad and sometimes from one area to another within the same railroad. The FRA allowed for differences in the implementation of the RWP rules. For example, a highly visible device may be a hard hat or a specific type of hard hat on some railroads; on others it is a reflective vest. Just about all railroads require roadway workers to wear work boots, but not all require toe-protective footwear, except for the following situation: The FRA does require toe-protective footwear when working on a bridge. Some railroads may choose not to use all of the forms of protection allowed. At least one railroad does not allow the use of foul time on dispatcher-controlled tracks over most of its lines. Therefore, it is best to check with the railroad about the safety requirements for a specific project.

Perhaps the reader can agree that surveyors would help themselves by knowing more about the practice and procedures of railroad operations. Perhaps some can see the value of including railroad safety and RWP training in our continuing education.

Sidebar: Resources

A download of the complete 49 CFR 214 regulations is available; once there, enter in “214.”

The “Roadway Worker Protection Quick Reference” pamphlet, which includes brief descriptions of seven fatal incidents, is available for free

“Railroad Workplace Safety,” published by The Railway Education Bureau. This handy 74-page pocket copy of the regulations is available for purchase