Topic: Trains/Operations

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🔗 How trains avoid colliding with each other

🔗 Trains 🔗 Trains/Operations

Signalling block systems enable the safe and efficient operation of railways by preventing collisions between trains. The basic principle is that a route is broken up into a series of sections or "blocks". Only one train may occupy a block at a time, and the blocks are sized to allow a train to stop within them. That ensures that a train always has time to stop before getting dangerously close to another train on the same line. The block system is referred to in the UK as the method of working, in the US as the method of operation, and in Australia as safeworking.

In most situations, a system of signals is used to control the passage of trains between the blocks. When a train enters a block, signals at both ends change to indicate that the block is occupied, typically using red lamps or indicator flags. When a train first enters a block, the rear of the same train has not yet left the previous block, so both blocks are marked as occupied. That ensures there is slightly less than one block length on either end of the train that is marked as occupied, so any other train approaching that section will have enough room to stop in time, even if the first train has stopped dead on the tracks. The previously-occupied block will only be marked unoccupied when the end of the train has entirely left it, leaving the entire block clear.

Block systems have the disadvantage that they limit the number of trains on a particular route to something fewer than the number of blocks. Since the route has a fixed length, increasing the number of trains requires the creation of more blocks, which means the blocks are shorter and trains have to operate at lower speeds in order to stop safely. As a result, the number and size of blocks are closely related to the overall route capacity, and cannot be changed easily because expensive alterations to the signals along the line would be required.

Block systems are used to control trains between stations and yards, but not normally within the yards, where some other method is used. Any block system is defined by its associated physical equipment and by the application of a relevant set of rules. Some systems involve the use of signals while others do not. Some systems are specifically designed for single track railways, on which there is a danger of both head-on and rear-end collision, as opposed to double track, on which the main danger is rear-end collisions.

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