Until the 1980s, laws in the United States and Canada required all freight trains to have a caboose and a full crew, for safety. The caboose provided the train crew with a shelter at the rear of the train. The crew could exit the train for switching or to protect the rear of the train when stopped. They also inspected the train for problems such as shifting loads, broken or dragging equipment, and hot boxes (overheated axle bearings, a serious fire and derailment threat).
Technology eventually advanced such that the railroads, in an effort to save money and reduce crew members, stated that a caboose was unnecessary, since bearings were improved and line side detectors were used to detect hot boxes, and better designed cars avoided problems with the loads. The railroads also claimed a caboose was also a dangerous place, as slack run-ins could hurl the crew from their places and even dislodge weighty equipment.
With the introduction of flashing rear-end devices (FREDs), often referred to by railroad companies as end-of-train devices (EOTs), the caboose was no longer necessary.
A FRED could be attached to the rear of the train to detect the train’s air brake pressure and report any problems to the locomotive. The FRED also detects movement of the train upon start-up and radios this information to the engineers so they know all of the slack is out of the couplings and additional power could be applied. The machines also have blinking red lights to warn following trains that a train is ahead.
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