Think you can outrun a train? Think again. From September 12 through December 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will team up with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the Stop. Trains Can’t.
safety campaign. The three agencies want to remind drivers to yield or stop at highway-rail grade crossings and to be alert for approaching light rail transit. The campaign’s focus is to help reduce collisions, deaths, and injuries at freight and commuter train and rail transit train crossings. This campaign will coincide with Rail Safety Week, which will take place September 19-25, 2022.
Whether it’s a freight or commuter train, or light or passenger rail, given their size, weight, and mass, trains need a long time to stop. Even emergency brakes aren’t enough to quickly stop a train in time to prevent a tragedy. Ignoring warning devices or traffic signals or attempting to go around a lowered crossing gate arm, can have deadly consequences. This careless behavior can endanger you, passengers in your motor vehicle, those operating or traveling on a train, or even those living and working near rail lines.
According to FRA, between 2017 and 2021, there were 7,919 collisions between freight and commuter trains and motor vehicles, resulting in 620 fatalities and 2,965 people injured at public rail grade crossings. In 2021 alone, there were 1,627 motor vehicle collisions at public rail grade crossings, resulting in 126 fatalities and 505 people injured. And, according to FTA, in 2020, there were 449 motor vehicle collisions at rail transit train crossings, resulting in 7 fatalities and 139 people injured.
The bottom line: rail tracks are a dangerous place. Respect the magnitude of the machine. Unfortunately, whether it was a freight or commuter train, or light or passenger rail, many crashes were caused by risky driving behaviors and poor decision-making. This means the incidents and deaths could have been prevented.
By law, freight and commuter trains always have the right-of-way at rail crossings. There are 125,500 public railroad crossings in the United States, and roughly 56% are “active” crossings that include warning devices such as gates, bells, or flashing lights to alert drivers of an approaching train. The remaining 44% are “passive” crossings, meaning only signs and markings are present. While warning devices do improve safety at railroad crossings, they do not prevent 100% of collisions. Approximately 70% of collisions at railroad crossings occur where active warning devices are present. When approaching a highway-rail grade crossing, slow down, look, and listen for a train on the tracks, especially at “passive” crossings. At night, and even during the day, look carefully in both directions before crossing a track.
Most importantly: Never stop on the tracks. Keep moving once you have entered the crossing. To avoid stalling, never shift gears on the tracks. If your vehicle does stall on a rail grade track — even if you don’t see a train coming — quickly move all occupants out and away from your vehicle and the track. Run toward the train and away from the tracks. If you run in the same direction that the train is traveling, you could be hit by flying debris when the train hits your car. When it’s safe to do so, call the number on the blue Emergency Notification System sign. If the sign is not visible to you, dial 911 for help.
For more information, visit www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/get-materials/rail-grade-crossing