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Railroad Crossing Safety

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Posted on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 at 3:01 pm    

This past Monday, an Amtrak train hit a 127-ton tractor-trailer that stalled on railroad crossings and injured 55 people. The collision happened in Halifax, North Carolina and the tractor-trailer was three times the weight of a standard 18-wheeler. The load was so enormous that it required Highway Patrol escort. Most people don’t consider the potential danger where roads and train tracks meet, until a tragedy occurs like the Valhalla, New York, collision on February 3, 2015 or the Yarmouth, Maine, collision on February 23, 2015. The only way to improve safety at railroad crossings is through educating the public on precautions to take.

Federal government statistics show that about every three hours in the U.S., a vehicle or person is hit by a train. In 2013, according to preliminary statistics, there were 2,096 railroad crossing collisions, which killed 231 and injured 972 people. Below are some simple and life-saving practices to help you avoid a confrontation with a train at a railroad crossing:

  • Never pass another vehicle within 100 feet of a railroad crossing.
  • Watch out for vehicles that MUST stop at railroad crossings, like school buses or trucks carrying hazardous materials.
  • When approaching a crossing, roll down your windows, turn off the radio or air conditioner, and listen for whistles or bells
  • Always yield to flashing lights, whistles, closing gates, cross bucks or stop signs.
  • Never shift gears on the railroad crossing, downshift before you reach it.
  • If you must stop, keep a distance of 15 to 50 feet from the tracks. Since the tracks are four feet eight and a half inches wide, and the train hangs three feet past the rails on each side, be sure to leave enough space between your vehicle and the tracks.
  • Teach children that the railroad is never a place to play, walk, run, bike ride, or use as a short cut. Don’t fish from railroad bridges either.
  • Always cross the tracks at the designated railroad crossing or pedestrian crossing.
  • Don’t be fooled by the optical illusion presented by the train. It is always moving faster and is much closer than you think so never try to beat a train.

In the case of the Amtrak train and the tractor-trailer collision on Monday, if your vehicle is to stall on the tracks and you see a train approaching you should do the following: Get out of your vehicle immediately, move away from the crossing, move towards the approaching train to avoid injury from debris, and call 911 immediately and inform police about the stalled vehicle. If you ever get caught in between the crossing gates it is best to just keep driving and break the crossing gate.

It is your responsibility to avoid a train since it cannot avoid you. All railroad accidents can be preventable if you remember and practice the following tips listed above. The Amtrak crash in North Carolina could have been prevented if the truck driver and the trooper escorts would have followed well-established protocols to clear their routes and inform the railroad dispatchers what they’re doing. Remember to practice safety. Don’t learn it by accident.