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Passenger Trains > "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?


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Date: 09/29/14 11:36
"Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Mgoldman

A railfan posted today on Railpictures.net a photo and linked video of
an Amtrak GE P42DC firing off "rail torpedoes" under the cab by the front
trucks to salute a retiring engineer in Oregon as the train arrived into
the station. The look was akin to firecrackers with smoke being set off.

Was wondering - what are "rail torpedoes"?

Are they unique components to railroads, or off the shelf items that are
used at times by railroads for a desired effect?

Are they used for reasons other then celebratory?

Are they common?

It appears they would require a bit of time and expertise to set up -
firing on queue and repetitively over a period of time.

/Mitch



Date: 09/29/14 11:41
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: ctillnc




Date: 09/29/14 11:54
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Mgoldman

ctillnc Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Google is your friend.
>
> http://trn.trains.com/sitecore/content/Home/Railro
> ad%20Reference/ABCs%20of%20Railroading/2006/05/Sto
> p%20that%20train.aspx?sc_lang=en


I hang out with Google often, but for rail related
topics, my friend of choice is TO's, lol.

Thanks for the very informative link to TRAINS magazine.

I didn't realize the explosive charges were placed on
the rail vs set off by the train and on the train's
under-body.

From that link:
"One of the oldest safety devices used by railroads is
the track torpedo, a small dynamite charge that's wrapped
in paper (usually red), with lead straps to hold it firmly
in place on a rail."

I don't suppose they use lead straps any longer...

/Mitch



Date: 09/29/14 12:11
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: CA_Sou_MA_Agent

Mgoldman Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I don't suppose they use lead straps any longer...


Never mind the lead straps -- almost all railroads have phased out use of torpedos altogether.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/29/14 13:26 by CA_Sou_MA_Agent.



Date: 09/29/14 12:42
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Palhoghead

I don't know of any railroad that still uses them. They make great reactive targets for a .22 though.



Date: 09/29/14 13:21
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: KB6GZ

When I was about 12 (1963) a friend of mine found some railroad torpedoes along the tracks. He put a couple in his pocket and headed home. Along the way they went off and tore off a huge chunk of his leg.
I can still remember seeing the size of the wound.

I suspect that this was one of many reasons why they are no longer used.

Rick
San Diego



Date: 09/29/14 14:25
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: knotch8

Rick, that's exactly right. I believe that the railroads came to see torpedoes as a tremendous liability, in case someone got into a locomotive cab (or a flagman's case on a passenger train), took some and was then injured badly by them.

Also, freight trains haven't had cabooses in years, so there's no one on the rear of a freight to flag the train. Most railroads have gone to a "block" or DTC operation in which a train has the right to a specific section of track, so there's less and less need for flagging a train. If there's a derailment in multiple-track territory, of course, there's a need to flag the train, but there's no one on the rear of a 100-car freight, so it's almost impossible to do it.

Just my thoughts. I'm sure others can come up with reasons that torpedoes are no longer used.



Date: 09/29/14 14:45
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: wa4umr

You know what can happen with a 1/4" x 1 1/2" firecracker. As kids we used to see what we could blow up with them. We launched quite a few thing into the air with that little charge.... not much more than a trace of powder. Now change that powder to dynamite and increase it from a little more than a trace to a chunk maybe 2" x 2" and 1/2" thick. I've seen them but I've never touched on. I've heard that they made good targets for .22s but I don't know if I'd even want to carry them to the range in my car... at least any old one. Lead straps, that's the least of your problems if you encounter them.

I remember as a kid in elementary school, a mid city school, they used to show educational movies. Sometimes they were about farming, or construction industries, the waterways, and the railroads. One of the movies about the railroads showed torpedos, how they used them, and how dangerous they were. That was over 55 years ago and I still remember it.

Read the Nostalgia & History from time to time and you'll hear of some creative uses that today would probably get someone fired.

John



Date: 09/29/14 16:37
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: bert14

Ah... being a kid with firecrackers...
or real "Cherry Bombs" Yep @1962/3?...12 years old...(too much data on the internet, I know)
Best ever, light one, drop into @3" embedded, straight up, 3 foot long steel pipe, (to stop cars at end of a parking lot.)
Smash a Tennis Ball down the top @ inch or two.......
KaThud!!!!...!!!
Tennis Ball now at 150 feet and climbing...
Who's gonna catch it?



Date: 09/29/14 19:48
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Bowknot

bert14 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Ah... being a kid with firecrackers...

Yeah, I found one of those things along the SP back in the late '70s. Curious, young, and foolish, I opened it up and found a yellow cake with a greasy look and a sulfurous smell. (Don't try this at home; I did it so you won't have to.)

Anyhow, I saved the shell, and here's what it looks like.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/29/14 19:56 by Bowknot.








Date: 09/29/14 22:36
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: srlawton

I really doubt that the explosive was dynamite, which requires an initiator and does not store well.

A short Google does not help me figure out what explosive was used. Brown prismatic powder?



Date: 09/29/14 23:12
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: 4451Puff

In the 1990's, I was told by a B&B foreman that the "propellant", if you will, was the same material found in fusees (aka "highway flares") Although I never attempted it, he claimed if you open up a fusee & sprinkle the inner material along a rail head, there will be a crackling sound as a wheel rolls across it. Anyone else ever hear of this?

Desmond Praetzel, "4451 Puff"



Date: 09/30/14 03:51
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: DNRY122

Back in the 70s, at a railway museum that shall remain nameless, members would gather on Dec. 31 to welcome the New Year. At 2400 hours, the area would resound with assorted whistles, bells, horns and gongs. On a couple of occasions, a section of track would be lined with torpedoes and they would be detonated by one of the locomtives. I would sound like World War III and the air would reek of pyrotechnic smoke. But that was a long time ago, and torpedoes are outlawed on our property just like they are on the Class-1s.

The only time I've seen torpedoes used for their intended purpose was in East Pasadena (CA) on the Santa Fe 2nd District in 1965 or 66. A track crew was making repairs in Arcadia, about 3 miles east of Chapman. A track worker had been stationed just east of the Halstead St. grade crossing with a flagging kit, and he had placed torpedoes west of there. Along comes #20, the eastbound Chief, which went through that area right around my lunch time. There were two loud "Bangs" and the engineer brought the train to a halt. The track man gave instructions, probably to proceed as restricted speed, prepared to stop short of workers and track repairs. This area is now completely covered by the 210 Freeway and the Gold Line light rail station.



Date: 09/30/14 09:02
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: pbrasky

"Although I never attempted it, he claimed if you open up a fusee & sprinkle the inner material along a rail head, there will be a crackling sound as a wheel rolls across it. Anyone else ever hear of this?"

I've done it and it does indeed crackle.



Date: 09/30/14 09:17
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Fredo

Double stacking torpedoes on top of each other brings things up to whole different level.



Date: 09/30/14 11:49
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: spnudge

Yes, it was filled with the same stuff that is in a fusee. Its wrapped very tight and that what causes the bang. It also makes a puff of smoke and you can smell it in the cab. (The old ones) They hailed from the steam days, so they could be heard in the cab with all the other engine noise.

We used to make a small line with fusee powder on the ball of the rail in a yard and it would make a a little snapping & popping sound as cars slowly went over it.


Nudge



Date: 10/01/14 21:49
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: srlawton

I give up... I'll look deeper myself to identify the explosive chemical used in torpedoes. For curiosity only!

I used torpedoes in road service on the SP Western Division. I was trained in their use in 1977.

Didn't seem all that dangerous, unless they fell into untrained hands. I surely wouldn't play with them, but on the other hand they were designed to detonate only from the tremendous forces between wheel and rail.

Surely somebody knows what the active chemical was. "Dynamite" is nitroglycerine doped into clay, and ignited with a starter. Torpedoes have no detonation train of increasingly insensitive materials.



Date: 10/02/14 01:45
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: Bowknot

It's all out there for the curious to find. Early formulations were more sensitive than necessary, containing material similar to that used in toy caps. A 1940's treatise describes a mixture which is immune to shock or ordinary falls.

srlawton Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I give up... I'll look deeper myself to identify
> the explosive chemical used in torpedoes. For
> curiosity only!
>



Date: 10/02/14 11:20
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: JLY

knotch8 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Rick, that's exactly right. I believe that the
> railroads came to see torpedoes as a tremendous
> liability, in case someone got into a locomotive
> cab (or a flagman's case on a passenger train),
> took some and was then injured badly by them.
>
> Also, freight trains haven't had cabooses in
> years, so there's no one on the rear of a freight
> to flag the train. Most railroads have gone to a
> "block" or DTC operation in which a train has the
> right to a specific section of track, so there's
> less and less need for flagging a train. If
> there's a derailment in multiple-track territory,
> of course, there's a need to flag the train, but
> there's no one on the rear of a 100-car freight,
> so it's almost impossible to do it.
>
> Just my thoughts. I'm sure others can come up
> with reasons that torpedoes are no longer used.

They became an explosive and now are considered unlawful to use.



Date: 10/02/14 12:32
Re: "Rail Torpedos" - what are they? When are they?
Author: chakk

Bowknot Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It's all out there for the curious to find. Early
> formulations were more sensitive than necessary,
> containing material similar to that used in toy
> caps. A 1940's treatise describes a mixture which
> is immune to shock or ordinary falls.
>
> srlawton Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I give up... I'll look deeper myself to
> identify
> > the explosive chemical used in torpedoes. For
> > curiosity only!
> >

Whoa! Cap guns! I remember them well and had several of the type that you put in a paper roll with the charges about 1/2 inch apart. In a repeating pistol, you could fire about 25 shots in a row.

Are they still sold in any toy stores?



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