The force of a 30-car freight train hitting a car is equal to the force of a car crushing an aluminum soda can. In fact, a motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a crash involving another motor vehicle, according to Operation Lifesaver, an organization dedicated to promoting railroad crossing safety.
Surprisingly, it’s still common to see cars and trucks momentarily stopped on railroad tracks in gridlock traffic. And some drivers make a habit of accelerating to beat the gate coming down when the railroad crossing lights start flashing because a train is approaching.
This kind of risk taking has tragic consequences. In 2014, there were 2,287 collisions at railroad crossings in the U.S. Those resulted in 269 fatalities and 849 injuries, according to preliminary statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis.
Here’s some advice from Operation Lifesaver you can pass along to fleet drivers as a friendly reminder:
- Trains and cars don’t mix. Never race a train to the crossing – even if you tie, you lose.
- The train you see is closer and moving faster than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
- 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 the equivalent of 18 football fields.
- 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 call your local law enforcement agency.
- Don't get trapped on the tracks. Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you're 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.
- At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
- When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember, it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
- Always expect a train. Freight trains don't follow set schedules.
To view a video about a recent Los Angeles-area crackdown on driving violations near railroad crossings, click on the photo or link below the headline.
To watch a PSA from Operation Lifesaver, click here.