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Nowadays axle counters are sometimes used instead of track circuits but in these days of instant communication with the signal box or control centre the need to get out on the track to protect the train has all but disappeared.It follows from the above that so long a train consists of more than one vehicle (of which the engine counts as one, as does each carriage or wagon) it must have a guard.In the distant past, realistically the only possible train that could have run without one would have been composed of a single carriage (almost certainly electrically powered).
This would be done by placing detonator caps on the track to warn other trains of danger.
In the days before bright colour light signals and track circuits the application of detonators was really the only way that a train could be fully protected.
It was all too easy for the driver to miss a paraffin-lit semaphore signal in the dark, especially if the train was pulled by a steam engine.
The role of the railway guard has been in the news recently due to various industrial disputes in London and beyond.
With debate set to continue over the role in the coming months, this seems an appropriate time to look at the role of the railway guard and its relevance today.
As is often the case in industrial disputes and public concerns, various issues get muddled together.In the case of dispensing with the guard there are two issues at stake.One is the seemingly trivial issue of whether the driver or the guard (also known as the conductor) should be responsible for closing the doors and the other is to what extent is it acceptable for the driver to be the only member of staff aboard a train during public operation.During the early years of railway operations, regulations required trains to have a guard.This was primarily in case the train became separated, which was a very real possibility.The consequence of having a portion of the train “running away” without anyone to apply the emergency brake could be very serious indeed.