On the Safe Side of the Tracks - Wacker Chemie AG


On the Safe Side of the Tracks

The last work accident happened in the spring of 1998. At that time, a colleague tripped over a strut, fell and broke his arm. Since then, all employees working at the WACKER works railroad have managed to avoid major injuries. “Shunting cars is a dangerous activity,” explains the deputy railroad operations manager Jürgen Stumpf with a smile. On April 19, 2013, he and his team were presented with a certificate marking 15 accident-free years.

The works railroad team handles 300,000 tons per year of incoming goods alone.

To understand why this certificate is a special honor, you have to know what the daily work at this “on-site transport railway” involves.

The early shift begins at 6:00 a.m. “Then the MRP controller communicates with the loading terminals and finds out which railcar has to be transported where; the train dispatcher then switches the tracks accordingly and the railroad supervisor takes care of the data from the transport deployment control system TESS,” explains Jürgen Stumpf. However, the shunters do the real dirty work. They are out on the tracks every day, whatever the weather, even in snow and ice. They trudge through the ballast bed, jump on and off the running boards of the railcars, always paying attention to the signals.

Everyone gets to be on the photo. But usually not even the train driver gets in: The railway vehicles are controlled remotely.

“The traffic on site has increased considerably over the years,” acknowledges Jürgen Stumpf, “but luckily my guys are an experienced and well-trained team – nevertheless, they have to be incredibly careful.” The 45-year old recently saw a photo of railway employees dating back to the 1950s: at their ease, men in black uniforms smile at the camera, each holding a bottle of beer. “That would be unthinkable today,” says Stumpf, “we wear bright orange work clothing with fluorescent stripes and there is a 0.0 alcohol limit.” The days of communicating by yelling, whistling or using hand signals are long over, today railroad workers use radios. And the train drivers seldom sit in the driver’s cab, rather they stand next to the engine and steer it over the tracks using a remote control unit.

The railroad team consists of 14 employees who all started out as shunters because of their passion for trains, then rising through the ranks to shunt supervisor and perhaps even train driver or engine shunt supervisor – there are 8 in total and each one of them took a train driver exam with an external professional examiner. It is a small team that moves big loads – an average of 300,000 tons annually of incoming goods.

The railway team's many accident-free years are attributable to its high safety standards and outstanding protective equipment, but, as Jürgen Stumpf so succinctly puts it, another important factor is: “We work closely together, trust one another implicitly and each one can absolutely rely on the other.”