COLLEGE STATION – Visitors to Disaster City? are often astonished to see a derailed Amtrak train more than a mile from the nearest rail line. Though it might be mistaken for a movie set for the latest disaster flick, the donated Amtrak train is a purposely staged “derailment” that serves as a training ground for passenger rail search and rescue.
Earlier this month, 16 responders spent a week on and around the seven-car passenger train derailment, learning and practicing the skills they would need to rescue victims of a passenger or commuter train incident. “The goal of our program is to make sure those who respond to a rail disaster in their community have the training and skills they need to save lives,” says Brian Smith, who manages the course.
The 40-hour Passenger Rail Rescue course is conducted by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) in conjunction with Amtrak. The most recent class included New Jersey Transit Police officers and fire and rescue personnel from Lincolnshire, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside Fire & Rescue Services in the United Kingdom.
The hands-on course uses the passenger cars as well as specialty props that allow students to learn specific skills such as “hot-cutting” through metal and removing an emergency access window in 15 to 20 seconds, Smith said. They also practice extricating victims through windows and doors, especially from cars that are turned on their sides or at a precarious angle on top of an adjacent car. Guest instructor Charlie Cox, who serves as Manager of Emergency Management and Corporate Security for Amtrak, provides insights into the specific challenges and hazards of each type of passenger rail car.
During the week, the students learn through realistic, hands-on rescue exercises and training scenarios during the day, and then at night they read a case study or National Transportation Safety Board report about a passenger train incident that relates to the daytime scenarios. On the final night of the course, the students practice the skills they have learned in a challenging rescue exercise, which includes 30 moulaged volunteer victims’ playing the role of injured train passengers. The mission is to rescue as many “victims” as they can, as fast and as safely as they can, Smith said.
“We are very pleased that this course is drawing an international audience, giving the course the added benefit of hearing new ideas and processes from other parts of the world,” he added. “An international mix of participants creates a collaborative and dynamic learning environment. This was certainly evident during the final night exercise. Watching the event unfold, we had a cohesive response team and setting aside the distinctive language accents, you’d think you were watching a team that had worked together for years.”