First, the good news about vehicle/train collisions at railroad crossings; the number of collisions at railroad crossings has declined from a high of 13,557 incidents in 1978 to 2,746 in 2007, a decline of 80%. Now the bad news; in 2007, there were still 2,746 incidents. Drivers are still not getting the word that trying to outrace a train at a railroad crossing is a lose/lose proposition. 94% of the collisions and 87% of the fatalities at railroad crossings are caused by risky driving behavior or poor judgment on the part of the driver. Look at the facts:
- A large vehicle such as a train appears to be moving slower than it actually is. The maximum speed for freight trains is 60 mph while passenger trains can travel up to 80 mph.
- Even at low speeds, the impact force of a train is tremendous. A single locomotive weighing 432,000 pounds traveling at 35 mph will impart a collision force on a car of 885,000 tons of force. In order for an average car to impart that kind of crash force it would have to be traveling more than 4,200 mph.
- Once the train’s engineer applies the brakes, the train will travel several hundred feet before air pressure is applied to the brakes on all the cars of a train and they fully take hold.
- An average freight train takes 1 1/2 miles to come to a complete stop.
- Of all the public railroad crossings (those crossing public roads and highways), only about 53% are controlled by electronic signals. Many private railroad crossings (on farms and industrial parks) are not marked at all.
How do you guard against becoming one of the statistics?
- Assume that there is a train on every track at all times, even tracks that are rarely used. If there is a stop sign at the crossing, stop! If there is a yield sign or electronic signals, slow and make sure that no trains are approaching.
- If there are two or more tracks, make sure there a train isn’t coming in the other direction. In 2000, a firefighter returning from a false alarm waited at the crossing gates for a northbound train to pass. The train passed and stopped just beyond the crossing. The firefighter drove his fire truck around the gate and was struck and killed by a southbound train whose view was obscured by the stopped northbound train. The crossbuck railroad sign will indicate how many tracks there are at the crossing.
- When stopping at a railroad crossing make sure you stop no less than 15 feet from the tracks.
- Never cross a railroad track unless you are sure there is room on the other side for your vehicle to completely clear the tracks. Many collisions occur when a vehicle’s rear end is still hanging out over the tracks.
- Don’t shift gears while crossing a railroad track; it could cause your vehicle to stall.
- If your car stalls on a railroad track, get out of the car immediately, clear the tracks and call 911 for help. If a train is coming, run away from the tracks in the direction of the approaching train. If you run away from the approaching train, you may be injured or killed by flying debris when the train smashes into your car.
- Never try to beat a train at a crossing or snake around the lowered crossing gates. Once the lights start to flash and the crossing gate arms go down, the train will appear in about 20 seconds.
Learn more driver safety tips at The National Safety Commission Alerts.