Trains and Cars: A True Underdog Story

Everyone loves an underdog. Who can resist the diminutive hero who overcomes impossible odds and emerges victorious against the big, powerful villain?

Unfortunately, when cars and trains square off, the underdog never wins, and the consequences are often fatal.

Since 2010, there have been nearly 350 accidents at railroad crossings. Approximately 30 percent resulted in fatalities.

The average train weighs 12 million pounds. Even in Texas, where everything’s bigger, the weight ratio of train to car is about 4,000-to-1. When the two collide, the result is similar to a car running over a soda can.

Here are some tips you can follow to stay on the safe side of the tracks when driving on personal or company business.

Consider the stats:

  • A train travelling 41 miles per hour covers 660 feet in 11 seconds.
  • Most train/automobile collisions happen when trains are travelling less than 35 mph.
  • A train travelling 55 mph needs a mile, or the length of 18 football fields, to stop.
  • The driver in a train/automobile collision is 40 times more likely to die than in a collision with another automobile.

 Forget what you think you know:

  • Freight trains don’t run on schedules, and passenger trains often change schedules.
  • Trains can move in either direction at any time.
  • Because trains are large, they may look like they are travelling slower than they actually are. They may also appear to be farther away than they actually are. The point: Don’t try to race trains across the tracks.
  • Always assume a train track is active, even if you see weeds growing or it looks unused.
  • Trains are quieter than they used to be. Don’t rely on your ears to tell you whether it’s safe to cross the tracks.
  • Trains always have the right of way, even over emergency vehicles.
  • Trains cannot stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.

Practice safe behaviors:

  • Avoid distractions. You should always avoid distractions behind the wheel, especially near train tracks. Don’t use your cell phone, listen to loud music, reach for things in the back seat or do anything else that might prevent you from observing an oncoming train.
  • Leave plenty of room. A train can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail, putting the safety zone well beyond the three-foot mark.
  • If the gates are down, stop.More than half of all motor vehicle-train collisions occur at crossings equipped with automatic signals. Some drivers go around the gates or through the flashing red lights because they think they can beat the train. Others assume a stopped train activated the signals, or the signals are malfunctioning.
  • Don’t pass the car in front of you. If you’re within 100 feet of a railroad crossing, do not pass another vehicle.
  • Don’t shift on the tracks.Many crossings are on surfaces higher than the roadway. Shifting gears with a manual transmission may cause the vehicle to stall on the tracks.
  • Take your time. Don’t try to cross immediately after the train passes. Another train might be coming, especially on crossings that have multiple tracks.

Prepare for the worst-case scenario:

  • If the gates close while you are on the track, keep driving, even if you have to break the gates.
  • If your car stalls on the tracks, get yourself and your passengers out of the vehicle and to a safe place.
  • Move toward the approaching train to reduce your risk of being hit by flying debris.
  • Call 9-1-1 and report the stalled vehicle as soon as safely possible.

More resources:

Texas Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Action Plan

Indiana Department of Transportation Railroad Crossing Safety Tips

Texas Department of Insurance Railroad Crossing Safety Fact Sheet

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration

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