Train travel and railroad safety

Learn benefits of rail travel and how to keep yourself safe while around railway intersections.

We are smack-dab in the center of the holiday season which means many will be traveling the roads, rails and airways. If you haven’t traveled by rail, you may be pleasantly surprised. The first pleasantry you may experience is the lack of stress it takes getting on the train. There are less people and crowds and what is best is the seating accommodations are much more spacious. The amount of foot space is unbelievable! You can actually stay seated when your neighbor needs to get up and out. The seats are wider, and the seats actually recline further back than an airline seat and have an extender that flips up to support your calves and a foot rest to boot!

The best part of train travel is not having the stress of driving and having the ability to get up and walk to other cars and the concession car or dining car. You can spent hours in the concession car talking and playing games with rail attendants and other passengers. The downside of train travel is the amount of time it takes to get to your destination. Trains have to adjust their speeds due to rail-road intersections, residential areas and having to stop at every station when passengers need to enter or exit the train. Something that you may not be aware of is the abundance of accidents at highway-rail crossings.

Many drivers pay little or no attention at highway-rail crossings they drive across day after day because they never see a train there. More than half of all motor vehicle-train collisions occur at crossings equipped with the automatic signals. According to the most recent annual data from the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2013, 142 people were killed and 733 were injured when trains crashed into motor vehicles.

Remember, trains do not run on set schedules. They can be on any track, at any time, going in either direction. If a locomotive engineer sees a vehicle or person on the tracks in the path of their train, they can only sound the warning horn and apply the emergency brakes. A train in emergency braking will stop, but not in time to avoid this collision. The average freight train consisting of 100 cars and weighing anywhere from 12 million to 20 million pounds takes over a mile to stop in emergency braking. There are brakes on every wheel, but it takes that long for all of those brakes to overcome the momentum of the tremendous weight pushing the train.

The following safety tips from Michigan State University Extension can help save a life:

  • Always yield the right of way to the train. The train cannot yield to you.
  • Never ignore active warnings at crossings.
  • Trains will arrive at a crossing faster than you anticipate.
  • Look and listen when you see advance warning signs indicating a rail-highway crossing.
  • Don’t pass approaching railroad crossings.
  • Before starting across the tracks, be sure there's room to get completely across.
  • When running away from a vehicle stuck on tracks, run away from the tracks at an angle in the direction of the approaching train.
  • When crossing has more than one track, don't try to cross immediately after the end of the train passes -- there may be another train approaching on the second track.
  • Stay off railroad property and stay safe.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs and drive.

 “A freight train hitting a car is like a car hitting a can of pop, it’s a huge mass difference,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council. “But just because commuter trains can stop more quickly doesn't mean they can stop before they actually hit you.” No matter your choice of travel, be mindful of the security that is designed to keep you safe. Slow-down and enjoy the ride! 

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