What are railraod Special Instructions?

It used to be that the army ran on its stomach, and the railroads ran on paperwork… piles of paperwork… staggering mounds of paperwork. A significant amount of this ongoing deforestation effort came in the form of company-issued literature directed towards the governance of operating crew members*, known collectively as "The Rules": rule books, timetables, train orders, bulletins, notices, circular letters, and a host of others, including Special Instructions ("Special Rules" on some railroads).

Special instructions used to accompany the employee timetable, or come out periodically as stand alone booklets. Perhaps much of their contents have been digitized by now - I don't know - but based upon my own more-general digital experiences over the years, I suspect that digitization has significantly obfuscated matters.

"SI's", as railroaders call them, were / are a wealth of far-ranging, very site specific and quite valuable directives and information regarding operation of trains. They tell crews which tracks are which, where you need to tie extra handbrakes, locations of impaired clearances, how to get by red automatic interlocking signals, the normal position of switches at junctions, locomotive tonnage rating and particulars of operation at a given spot, ad infinitum.

Of course, being the product of human beings, mistakes and oversights, occur, but these usually are corrected by what might be termed "bulletin board items", special notices issued by the division superintendent, or whomever.

This brings up an overriding issue that, given the great collected mass of "rules": Where do you find that bit of needed esoterica that you are looking for? The location of some data is obvious, once you've been around the experience block' but otherwise, the many permutations of rules publications so overlap and interrelate that things often do not appear where you might expect the.

In other words, Special Instructions cover a wide range of real world circumstances... except when they don't.

*operating crew members: people who perform train, engine and switching service. The term "operating employee" is bandied about by both government and industry, yet I have never found standard definition. Intuitively, one would suppose that it refers to those three general categories, but Its usage sometimes seems to extend to anyone affecting the movements of trains, such as dispatchers and operators. Should you find an actual definition of "operating employee". write! wx4.org@ yahoo.com

- E. O.

Click on the graphic to explore the wide variety of info that comes in an average book of special instructions.