Friday, December 11, 2009

Tragic collision

The News Observer has a horrible story about a mother who lost her two children and was injured herself when her SUV was struck by a train at an at-grade railroad crossing.

From the report, the SUV was in the crossing when the gates went down and then unable to get out.

The crossing has been the scene of another fatal accident and 11 accidents total since 1975.

The tragedy should be a reminder to drivers to NEVER enter an intersection or crossing that they can't clear. I can't count the number of times that I've seen cars in Greensboro creep into active railroad crossings in stopped traffic only to be stuck until the cars ahead of them moved. In those situations, the drivers might as well have painted bright red targets on their cars.

In heavy traffic, drivers should judge whether they can make it ALL THE WAY through an intersection. If they can't, they should stop short of the intersection and wait for it to clear.

Trailing cars coming up to a crossing should try to leave room for careless drivers to back up; they shouldn't crowd the intersection.

Operation Lifesaver gives the following advice
Never drive around lowered gates — it's illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.

Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.

Do not get trapped on the tracks. Only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing 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 while a train is 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.

At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.

ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. 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. That's 18 football fields!

Do not be fooled — 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.

When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember that it isn't safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
It's likely that yesteday's tragedy was preventable; that's a sad conclusion that will haunt the mother forever.

Sadder still, it's a tragedy that's likely to be repeated many more times until drivers become more aware.