Changing a Locomotive Headlight – Trains

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Why good lighting is important day and night

Changing a locomotive headlight: Everything we do on the railway is guided by FRA standards and practices.

Man holding a light fixture on a clear day.
Matthew Blackburn, General Manager, Sierra Northern Railway – Ventura Division, is working on changing the sealed beam headlight to a more modern locomotive. Photograph by David Lustig

According to the part of the federal law that governs railroads – 49 CFR § 229.125 – any lead locomotive used in road service must turn on its headlight while the locomotive is in service.

If a road unit is regularly required to reverse on part of its route, other than to board a detached part of its train or to make terminal movements, it must also be provided with a rear light. Each lighthouse must aim to illuminate a person at least 800 feet ahead and in front of the lighthouse.

Technically, an older locomotive fitted with a single lamp headlight must produce a peak intensity of at least 200,000 candelas and must produce at least 3000 candelas at a 7.5 degree angle and at least 400 candelas at an angle of 20 degrees from the centerline of the locomotive when the light is directed parallel to the tracks. Locomotives equipped with a two-light headlight must meet the same lighting standards. Yard switches must meet a similar requirement.

Changing a headlight depends on the age of the device.

Man climbing the ladder to the locomotive deck.
Matthew Blackburn, General Manager, Sierra Northern Railway – Ventura Division, rides on the front of a generator set locomotive with an F7 nearby. Changing the bulb on each locomotive is a different process. Photograph by David Lustig

Changing a locomotive headlight on older locomotives, such as the EMD F7 locomotives we use on the Northern Sierra use a single screw-in bulb similar in design, but usually larger, than a traditional bulb you might find in your home. In our F units, we need to reach the headlamp assembly in the nose through the locomotive cab.

Our generating sets are different. They are sealed beam bulbs that look like an automobile headlight and are connected to the locomotive’s electrical system by pins.

To change a headlight on a generator, we unscrew the waterproof retainer with a screwdriver or a suitable pair of pliers and remove the bad headlight, replacing it with a new one. Then we push the bulb back into the correct position and tighten the retaining ring to ensure a good seal. Next, we test the light bulb. We always have plenty of spare bulbs of both types readily available on site.


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