Inverted-L Dual Track Fall Protection System For Gondola Railcars


The US Government oversees a contaminated worksite in the northeastern United States where radioactive thorium was processed during the early twentieth century. A large environmental services group was contracted by the government to remediate part of the jobsite and return it to a usable state. The remediation process involves digging up contaminated dirt and testing it for radioactivity. Once the dirt has been proven to meet acceptable radiation limits, it is removed from large piles with front-end loaders and transported to several gondola style railcars lined with plastic. After the railcars are full, workers climb ladders and enter the railcars. The workers employ a process to stitch the large plastic liners together at the top and then tape them closed. The bagged dirt is then shipped by rail to a remote location and disposed of.

For the first several months on the job site, workers climbed the gondola ladders, and at nine feet off the ground, stepped into the railcars without fall protection. The task was extremely dangerous because ladder rungs could be slippery and walking on dirt inside the gondola made it easy for workers to lose their balance. Unfortunately, workers at a sister site in the southeast discovered exactly how dangerous it was to climb railcars when one of their co-workers was killed after stepping off the side of a gondola car. This accident immediately prompted management at the northeastern remediation site to assess company fall hazards. Workers climbing railcars were tagged as working in an environment that had slip hazards, fall hazards, and potential impact hazards, and site management started looking for a fall protection solution to their railcar application.


Management reviewed several potential solutions to the application. The first proposal involved portable guard rails that could be bolted directly to the gondola cars before accessing them, and unbolted after jobs were complete. This approach was considered inefficient due to the amount of time it would take to set up and tear down the system. A cable system was also considered, but after the deflection in the system was taken into account, management decided that a system like this could injure workers due to fall impacts. Next, the team reviewed a rigid rail system from a major fall protection provider.

They liked the system, but it was only able to provide spans up to 28 feet with the ability to support a maximum of 2 workers within the span. This was not an option since each railcar was 46 feet in length. Finally, a local safety house proposed a Rigid Lifelines® Anchor Track™ system to management. When Rigid Lifelines® presented drawings to decision-makers, they explained that Rigid Lifelines® Anchor Track™ could easily span up to 46 feet in length and be engineered to support a maximum of 4 workers within that span. After reviewing Rigid Lifelines’ experience with rigid rail and its engineering capabilities, management decided to work with Rigid Lifelines® on the project.

Rigid Lifelines® installed a 336 foot Inverted-L dual Anchor Track™ system. The length of the system allows for coverage over 7 gondola railcars at one time. 7 wide flange beam footers each reinforced in 9 feet of concrete support the Anchor Track™ and cantilevered beams. The system is designed to support 6 workers simultaneously, allowing 4 workers to utilize any single 46 foot span at one time.


Now when workers need to access rail cars, they hook up to one of the system’s self-retracting lanyards (SRLs) and climb the ladders knowing that, if they fall, they will be protected, not only from fatality, but also from serious injury. The dual track allows for workers to pass each other without unhooking from the system, and the smooth rolling trolley within the enclosed track does not interfere with workers as they complete their job. Site management is confident that this maintenance-free, outdoor Rigid Lifelines® fall protection Anchor Track™ system will provide fall safety for the lifecycle of the project.