Specialized Training for Rail Incidents

by James Metzger

In 2012, Amtrak created the Emergency Management and Corporate Security (EMCS) Department, which focuses on emergency preparedness, continuity of operations, and corporate security risk strategy. EMCS promotes Amtrak’s security and safety goals by focusing on preparing first responders on how to respond to passenger train emergencies. It is imperative that the more than 26,000 emergency response agencies along the Amtrak rail system understand how to best respond to incidents involving passenger trains.

Amtrak follows the Transportation Code of Federal Regulations’ Passenger Train Emergency Preparedness (49 CFR Part 239), which focuses on reducing “the magnitude and severity of casualties in railroad operations by ensuring that railroads involved in passenger train operations can effectively and efficiently manage passenger train emergencies.” To meet these preparedness regulations, as set forth by the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak conducts Passenger Train Emergency Response (PTER) trainings for employees and external partners for stakeholders in its widespread service area – 46 states, District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces.

Emergencies on passenger rail cars and equipment require special knowledge, preparation, and training. Amtrak currently has 11 regional emergency managers across the nation who help prepare the first responder community for emergencies along America’s Railroad®. These regional emergency managers use the five core competencies of the Incident Command System to provide instruction during train incidents and emergencies: assume position responsibilities; lead assigned personnel; communicate effectively; ensure completion of assigned actions to meet identified objectives; and assume position responsibilities.

The PTER course provides first responder agencies – law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, healthcare, emergency managers, public health, public works, government agencies, private sector, and anyone else who may have to respond to a rail incident – specific knowledge on how to ensure responder safety by providing information on a variety of topics related to railroad safety, including:

  • Railroad right of way dangers and safety concerns
  • Safe evacuation of passengers, including those with functional needs
  • Mainline switches (remotely controlled)
  • Passenger and freight railroad relationships
  • Emergency phone numbers
  • Average frequency of passenger and freight trains
  • Maps and schedules
  • Passenger loads
  • Train speeds
  • Train crew orientations
  • Challenges of extraction
  • Railroad mileposts, signals, crossings, flagging distances, and bungalows
  • Access points to the railroad
  • Secondary access points if primary is blocked
  • Safety equipment diagrams
  • Trespassing on railroad property
  • Bent rail
  • Pneumatic and electrical hazards
  • Tunnel and bridge preplanning
  • Environmental issues

With Amtrak having more than 500 stations and 31.6 million passengers in 2013, the EMCS’s goal is to promote safety and security for all of its customers, employees, and community partners. The one-day PTER training is offered free of charge to all community response agencies that may have to respond to a train incident within their jurisdictions or neighboring jurisdictions.

To find out more or to schedule a PTER training course with Amtrak, please contact the EMCS at:

James Metzger is the deputy chief of emergency management and corporate security for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation – Amtrak. Previously, he was a station action team coordinator for Amtrak from 2008 to 2012. Before joining Amtrak, he served in various positions in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Police Department (1991-2008) – including lieutenant, commander special operations division, and counterterrorism coordinator. From 1986 to 1990, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.