Andy has said it all with regard to "Stop Signals." Referred to as Controlled Signals, these are found with in "Centralized Traffic Control" (CTC) or within Interlocking limits(a poor man's CTC). But a "red block signal" is not the same.
There are dozens and dozens of situations wherein the block signal display is red, but the train may pass it without stopping, under certain circumstances,
When dealing with a Controlled Signal (used to be called an "Absolute Signal," and if you got by it you were absolutely screwed), you get by one of those you're subject to penalties by a carrier, you get your FRA license revoked for some period of time and subject to fines, and your tit is in a wringer.
Either way, if you are proceeding in a red block, at "Restricted Speed" the engineer basically bears the burden if ANYTHING goes wrong, literally. Unless changed since I hung up the reverser the definition of Restrict Speed is :
"A speed that will permit stopping within one half the range of vision short of a train, engine, railroad car, stop signal*, derail or switch not properly lined or other obstruction, looking out for broken rail, not exceeding 20 mph." Of course the kitchen sink wasn't named directly, but it certainly is under the same vague but all encompassing umbrella of "or other obstruction".
*In this instance "stop signal" can be a red flag, an employee waving a red flag, a burning unattended fuse, employee giving the hand signal to stop or whistle signal from another train (three short whistles) or anyone waving something violently (news paper, cloth, hat, road flare, et al.)
Oh well, just another day at work with lives and your butt on the line...
If you are in heavy valley fog, descending grade of 2.2% with limited sight line in any weather condition, further compounded by snow or fog, while having to squeeze a 10,000 ton train, 5,800 foot long into a 5,925 foot long siding, you don't get to say, "Gee dispatcher, that's scary. I really don't want to do that." But you gotta go.That is when brass balls come into play and you damned sure better have your **** together. Screw up then and the result can be many fatalities or seriously endangering habitat.
Train handling anywhere can be just as defining. It isn't about just moving levers or watching instruments or dealing with red signals. It takes a bunch of skill and the aforementioned brass balls.
Railroaders in the operating department, especially hogheads (no bias here), put their big boy pants on and man-up to the occasion. They also have their jobs on the line on every trip.
And sometimes rails go to work and never come home.
Wimps need not apply...
And all of this is what a true stop signal and/or restricted speed violation can rain down. Go to YouTube and search "kismet train wreck." (I'm far too lazy to do it for you) This is a major stop signal violation resulting in a head-on collision.
What do you think may have happened if they were HazMat trains? If you have tracks in your community they could be handling a lot of nasty stuff. Tank cars, black or white are the tell. The next time you are stopped for a train to pass, actually read what is written on them in the direction of travel on the right hand side.
Depending where you live you'll see Liquified Petroleum Gas, Chlorine, Anhydrous Ammonia, Acids, Hydrogen Peroxide, Molten Sulfur, Crude Oil, Poisons, Corrosives, the list goes on.
If you're seeing them passing frequently, you are at risk. Most of the worst stuff shipped is heavier than air, so anything below grade is at very high risk. Schools in particular, but everywhere possible (strip malls, offices, etc.) there should be an evacuation plan that is disseminated to all, and with schools, drills in escaping to a waiting bus. Time is of the essence.
It's out there waiting. One can accept it or deny it.
But they had better not ignore it...