Car-train crashes cost lives

Railroad Crossingvia Moak: Car-train crashes cost lives, clarionledger.com

If you’ve ever run over a soda can with your car wheels, things look pretty bad for the soda can afterwards. If you’ve ever wondered how your vehicle might fare in a collision with a 30-car freight train, you can apply pretty much the same force ratio — except that your car is now the soda can. According to some statistics, you’re 20 times more likely to die in a train-vehicle crash than you would be if your car, truck or SUV hit another vehicle of similar size.

Despite those sobering facts, many Mississippians gamble their lives every day as they try to beat oncoming trains at rail crossings, or fail to watch for trains. Makeshift memorials can be seen at many crossings; a grim reminder of the dangers of crossing the rails. Last week, the Mississippi Department of Transportation sent out a news release about railroad crossing safety as part ofInternational Level Crossing Awareness Day, which brings transportation agencies together to address the problem and reduce fatalities.

MDOT oversees safety and traffic control on all public at-grade crossings, defined as those that are level with the road. “Looking at railroad crossings in tandem with diagnostic reviews, MDOT’s rails engineer can determine the kinds of warning devices that should be in place at railroad crossings,” the release noted.

One MDOT focus is adding lights and gates to crossings, which have been proven to reduce the danger. The Federal Railroad Administration notes that car-train crashes have plummeted since the early 1970s, but are still unacceptably high.

MDOT reports that one particularly troublesome crossing in Pascagoula was upgraded in 2013. That crossing (where Mississippi 611, U.S. 90 and multiple rail lines met) has long been listed as being among the nation’s worst for train-vehicle collisions, with anFRA study showing it as 10th-worst in the nation over the past decade with 12 reported incidents and seven injuries. By constructing an overpass at the site (funded by a multi-agency partnership), the danger of a collision was eliminated.

Other projects involve crossings in small towns or rural areas. MDOT cited one example in the northeast Mississippi town of Verona, in which a grade crossing near a school was upgraded with signals and gates. But upgrading can be cumbersome and expensive.

“With federal funding, MDOT is only able to add warning devices to about 10 to 15 railroad crossings each year,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT executive director. “Last year, there were five fatalities on rail lines in Mississippi, down from nine in 2014. While fatalities on rail lines have decreased over the years, the need for safety at railroad crossing remains extremely important.”

Installing and maintaining lights and gates only address part of the problem; the other piece is in the hands of drivers. Here are a few of MDOT’s tips, which every driver should review:

  • Never race a train to the crossing. Despite what you may have seen in movies and on TV, the car rarely wins. Is it worth your life to make that gamble?
  • The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks, then check carefully — in both directions.
  • Remember that trains require a lot of room to stop. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. Even slow-moving trains can’t stop immediately.
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.
  • Don’t get trapped on the tracks. Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. It isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
  • Finally, don’t assume that because a train wasn’t there at the same time yesterday, it won’t be there today. Schedules vary.

For more information, visit GoMDOT.com. For a map of railroad crossings in Mississippi, visit http://ow.ly/tqSu3017Mfy.

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