With all the rail activity in our state, unfortunately accidents do occur at times. Nationwide, it is estimated that every two hours either a vehicle or a pedestrian is in an accident involving a train, many of which happen at crossings. The railroad industry has been working with various organizations, including federal, state, and local entities in efforts to reduce crossings accidents by making drivers and pedestrians more alert to safety issues dealing with train crossings. As many of you may be aware, there have been several train crossings—both public and private—in our area closed for this reason. Because of the crossing initiatives the number of accidents, including fatalities, has been reduced. The federal government has increased funding for railroad crossing improvements and re-routing traffic in efforts to further reduce crashes and fatalities.
We are told that one of the easiest ways to reduce or eliminate rail hazards is by closing as many crossings as possible. However, this often draws opposition from local officials and residents who may be inconvenienced by having to go different routes to find a crossing. Overpasses (as we see in various places around the local area, including the new one going in on 20th St. in Joplin) and underpasses have been effective, but at the same time they are very expensive. Flashing lights and gates have improved the safety of crossings, yet only about one-third of all public crossings have both lights and gates. Even with these safety features, crossings still account for almost half of all train/motor vehicles collisions. Drivers trying to go through the closed gates and attempting to beat a train account for many of the accidents. Of course, this action is illegal and equivalent to running a stop sign or a red light, and offending drivers can be ticketed for such actions.
The Missouri Department of Transportation's (MoDot) Multimodal Division oversees the state’s railroad program. Last year they spent $18.5 million in federal funds, with some state matching money on crossing updates, increasing the number of rail crossing projects from approximately 30 to more than 150. With all this emphasis on railroad crossings, the number of accidents has fallen dramatically. Even though more needs to be done, a great deal has already been accomplished. In attempts to even further reduce accidents, the industry has published several railroad crossing safety tips:
* Never drive around lowered gates.
* Never race a train to a crossing; if you tie—you lose.
* Don’t get trapped on the tracks. Trains are three feet wider on each side of the tracks.
* Watch out for a second train at multiple-track crossings.
* Always expect a train at any time on any track.
* Remember, trains cannot stop quickly. A freight train moving at 55 mph will take approximately a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied.
*Trains can fool you. Oftentimes a train is closer and moving faster than it would appear.
* Should your vehicle ever stall on a track, GET OUT, call for help, and remember at all crossings there is a toll free number listed to alert the train dispatcher of the situation.
In 2013 Missouri had 64 crossing crashes and trespass incidents that resulted in 14 fatalities and 38 injuries. All railroad tracks are private property and trespassing or walking on a track is illegal and extremely dangerous. Accidents at railroad crossings are preventable.
Please use caution and common sense when approaching a railroad crossing. It takes everyone doing his or her part to make train/motor vehicle crashes a thing of the past. Remember that one of the best slogans all drivers and pedestrians need to heed is look, listen, and live.