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7 Myths About Rail Transport – by Stanley Frenny

  • By Stanley Frenny

Rail transportation is one means of transportation that has so many myths and misunderstanding about it. There have been a whole lot of untruths about this means of transportation, mostly by people who have not used this means of transportation for their first time. Some of these myths were stories passed down from generations and are taken as facts.

Ironically, some people who I know are frequent users of the rail transport system still believe in some of these myths! Amazingly, some of the railway staff holds some of these myths dearly as truths. In this article, I have put together some of these myths and their facts. Having travelled by train for long and short distances overtime, ranging from Zaria in Kaduna State to Port-Harcourt in Rivers State, Aba in Abia State to Port-Harcourt respectively, I can say that I am an experienced rail transport user.

The experiences i have gathered during my trips and that of schooled railway staff are what make up this article.

I am certain this article is educative and informative at the same time, but it would be worthy to note that when we talk about rail transport in this article we are referring to the locomotive train not the entirely electric ones. We would not go into details of the various types of railway systems; rather we would stick to the topic of the day.
Here it comes;

1). MYTH: A moving train is magnetic! A train in motion magnets things to itself and crushes them. The magnetic features of the train owes to the mechanism in the wheel that helps the train stay on its track and not derail. This magnetic technology in the wheel and track system of the train emits a reasonable amount of electromagnetic/magnetic field that was originally designed to keep the train on track as this field grows; it attracts things around it and crushes it. Including human beings!

FACT: This myth is one of my classics; it cracks me up anytime, anywhere. I would just go straight to the point. Yes there are magnetic trains known as Maglev which actually means Magnetic Levitation. This technology allows the train to float on its track. However, Nigeria Railway system is still battling with the Diesel Locomotive train to have anything to do with the Maglev train system! If the picture below is the type of train you have seen then it has nothing to do with magnets or electromagnetic fields.


It would surprise you to know that even the Maglev that uses a technology harnessed from magnets to operate doesn’t, I repeat DOES NOT attracts nothing to itself. How much more the diesel powered ancient of days locomotive trains. So, NO, trains whether in motion or not does not attract anything to itself. While I was researching on this, a few people claimed to have witnessed the train magnet and crush someone, or where told stories by their grandparents, some now claim that that technology that brings about the magnetization has been removed. It better be removed, because the fact is trains DO NOT MAGNET people or things, ask any physicists or mechanical engineer they would tell you I was right.

2). MYTH: Trains do not reverse! It is said that trains do not have the ability to move backwards. I quite couldn’t get the reason for this point, some cited that the engine is at the front and therefore it cannot reverse, many others just know that trains cannot reverse.

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FACT: Well this is kind of tricky, first what would be the direct meaning of ‘”reverse” both in engineering terms and in general English language? Reverse would mean “acting, moving, operating in a manner contrary to the usual, previous or normal condition”, Merriam Webster dictionary. So YES, trains can reverse! Some early engines may not have the ability to move backwards either at good speeds or for a long time, but the locomotive engines we have now can do any of that.

Reversing with the driver at the front end is very much possible, but obviously risky owning to the inability of the driver to see the other end clearly so it may not be entirely safe according to standard rules. The operational rules of the railway may or may not allow it for a second driver to be in the rear end with another engine which may owe to the seldom reverse movement of the train by the driver without clearance from control bodies. It is however easier for the locomotive engine to pull the coaches than to push it.

3). MYTH: TRAINS DO NOT HAVE BRAKES! Somehow, the train comes to a stop only at stations and can not stop anywhere else. When the driver is close to the station, he reduces the speed allowing the train to decelerate freely to halt in its station. There are however calculations that must be adhered to.

FACT: I wept when i first heard this, later on i concluded that parents may have devised this lie to dissuade their children from playing around the railway track. Trains have a breaking system and it uses it, but just like every other vehicle, brakes are applied cautiously except in emergency cases where a special kind of braking system is applied to quickly bring the vehicle to close to abrupt halt.

Trains are equipped with braking systems which use compressed air as the force to push blocks on the wheels or pads on to discs. These systems are known as “air brakes” or “pneumatic brakes”. Even after applying the brakes, the train takes time to come to a full halt, but yes there are brakes used in controlling acceleration, bring about deceleration and station the train when fully halted.

4). MYTH: TRAINS ARE POWERED WITH COAL! The train is powered with coal from Enugu; there is a chamber in one of the coaches where coal is scooped by labour men into. A furnace heats the coal and the resultant effect is the energy it supplies the engines.
FACT: there is a level of truth in this myth, as there were times trains were powered with coal by steam engines. Steam locomotives have since been obsolete so to speak of. In its place now, we have several other options.

The early internal combustion engine powered locomotives and railcars used kerosene and gasoline as their fuel. Soon after Dr. Rudolf Diesel patented his first compression ignition engine in 1898, it was considered for railway propulsion and by the mid-1950’s diesel locomotives has become the dominant type of locomotive in the railway transportation. Sadly, since then through when Nigeria had her own installation of the railway system till date, diesel locomotives are still in use amidst myriads of technologies as options.

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5). MYTH: THE HORN OF THE TRAIN CAN BE HEARD THROUGH OUT THE TOWN! For a city like Aba, the sound of the horn from the train would be heard by people around Port Harcourt road axis.

FACT: Train horns (Air Horn) are operated by compressed air. In normal case, the audible range is up to 5-8 kms and sometimes in the midnight and early morning; there is lot more range covered. This is due to fewer disturbances in the atmosphere. No doubt the train horn can travel far distance and cover vast area but there are factors that can affect it other than atmospheric disturbances.

Those factors include but not limited to the supply of adequate power, the durability of the train horn materials and of course standardizations by railway regulatory bodies. So the train horn in some given instances may not be that loud as we always thought but loud enough to warn you that a train is coming or leaving as the case may be.

6). MYTH: A TRAIN CANNOT STOP ANYWHERE ELSE OTHER THAN THE STATION! I have heard people say that a train is incapable of stopping anywhere else other than the train station. That once the train is in motion, it continues as such and never stops until it gets to the next station.

FACT: I suppose that what this myth is referring to is the law of operation that wouldn’t permit a train to make a stop anywhere else other than its allocated point but not that it cannot apply its brakes to stop, maybe not abruptly but at least make a stop when it needs to. Take for an instance a Helicopter, it could land where it wants to, as long as there is space to contain it but it couldn’t because there are facilities built for it to land on.

Can a ship stop in the middle of the sea? Answer is yes, but should it stop? No, unless of course if there where any form of emergency. So, a train can stop anywhere the driver wants it to, but this is unlikely because trains should only make stops at their stations.

7). MYTH: TWO TRAINS CANNOT RUN AT THE SAME TIME! The railway line is built for only a train so therefore only one train can run at a time. Besides, if two trains were to run simultaneously, they would eventually magnet each other and the result would be disastrous.

FACT: Well, this one is a bit tricky in the sense that it would be difficult to directly debunk this myth. However, I would like to point out that it is possible for two trains to run simultaneously (and the end result wouldn’t be some disastrous train crash) so long as they run in separate tracks; and there wont be any MAGNETISATION! Note that two trains can still utilize one track and run on it! They usually have a means of communication and are usually controlled from the Railway Headquarters.

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Whichever train gets to a particular station first has to radio or fax the headquarters and would have to wait there for the one coming in the opposite direction to arrive, it is then that one of them gets manually redirected by shunt men to a service track by pulling a lever that breaks the rail line from a joint and reconnects it with another. The waiting train can now pass, afterwards the other reverses and gets reconnected to its course or it could continue on that same service track till it gets to a joint that can reconnect it back on course. So, yes, two trains can run simultaneously in opposite direction on or not the same track with close monitoring from headquarters and maybe regional headquarter stations.

This practice is usually not safe or standard which could explain why it is seldom done, I have however experienced it more than thrice and it’s painstakingly strenuous; in fact one of those times, I had to leave in the middle of the process and found my way to board a bus and continue my trip. It’s that “bad”! Recall I said this is tricky one to debunk, that is because two trains can move in the opposite direction in relatively same time but I don’t think, never seen two trains moving in the same direction simultaneously on same track or different ones.

It would be noteworthy to know that trains are equipped with toilet systems with a pedal to enable you flush after use in contrast to the septic tank system of homes. The waste when flushed is not collected anywhere for proper disposal, it goes right out through an opening and lands in between the rail lines. This practice is neither hygienic nor healthy at all and I call on relevant authorities to make a redress to it before we finally dispose of all the archaic diesel locomotives that make up our railway system.

Another important thing to know is that when a train runs into someone or any property on its track, irrespective of the damage caused, the Nigeria Railway would impound or arrest the persons, person, or property involved. They would be charged to court for prosecution and would pay a non-refundable sum of one hundred thousand naira as fine. It is a federal law and I have seen it in action, if I may advice you, stay away from the railway line as much as possible at least a hundred meters away from it, I think that is what the law provides.

Dear reader, there are so many reasons one should love the railway transport for: comfort, availability of restroom, affordability, security (never heard that robbers mounted a roadblock and raided a moving train, besides all trains move with Man O’ War, Railway security Officers and The Railway Nigeria Police personnel). If you are a reader, you would find time and space to read while travelling in a train; if you are artistic or a lover of nature, you would definitely get a fair dose of sceneries to help your mind.

This is where we end it, remember, the train doesn’t magnet people or things, the horn is not the judgment day horn and the train has brakes.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Stanley Frenny

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