Railroad and Roadway Traffic Safety Issues

By Dewey-Kollen, Janet | Law & Order, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Railroad and Roadway Traffic Safety Issues


Dewey-Kollen, Janet, Law & Order


The good news is highway-rail collisions, fatalities and injuries occurring at public and private crossings have decreased dramatically over the past 20 years. The bad news is when motorists disregard signs, lights, bells, and gates at highway-rail grade crossings, the consequences are often deadly.

A collision involving a vehicle and a train is forty times more likely to result in a fatality than a crash involving motor vehicles, according to Operation Lifesaver. Operating in 49 states, Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit public education program dedicated to ending deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.

Because law enforcement officers must contend with critical and often unique circumstances when responding to a roadway-rail incident, Operation Lifesaver has produced specific tips for law enforcement officers.

Preliminary statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration as of September 2004 show that in 2003 there were 2,935 highway-rail grade collisions at public/private for all highway users. These collisions resulted in 330 fatalities and 1,010 injuries in 2003.

The number of collisions in 2003 was 41% less than in 1973 when 7,161 collisions were recorded. Fatalities decreased by 57% and injuries decreased by 39% over the same time period.

Education, Enforcement, Engineering

Operation Lifesavers credits this progress to activities focused around the three E's.

Education

Operation Lifesaver strives to increase public awareness about the dangers around the rails. The program seeks to educate both drivers and pedestrians to make safe decisions at crossings and around railroad tracks.

Enforcement

Operation Lifesaver promotes active enforcement of traffic laws relating to crossing signs and signals and private property laws related to trespassing.

Engineering

Operation Lifesaver encourages continued engineering research and innovation to improve the safety of railroad crossings.

In situations involving the threat of loss of life, injury, or property damage, Operation Lifesaver advises officers to, use several steps for initial response to a crash. To insure your safety as you approach the collision, stay upwind of vapors until you can check the rail car for placards that might indicate hazardous materials.

Immediately call the railroad 800 number posted at the crossing and your agency's communications center to report the crash and provide the exact location. The US Department of Transportation number found on crossing posts or electronics shed near the site is the easiest location reference for railroads, although other reliable references include railroad mile posts, major land marks, and distances from the nearest city. Remember: train crews and motor vehicle drivers do not use the same geographical references, so the DOT number is the best choice.

At least a mile and a half from the incident and in both directions, place lighted red flares between the rails. Warning: Most trains require a mile or more to stop, so place the lighted fuses at the proper distance away from the incident.

Standing well away from the rails, swing a flare, white light or other bright object back and forth across the body at or below waist height. The engineer will acknowledge this universal "STOP" signal and bring the train to a halt. Be certain to swing flares across the body between hip and knee height, as other motions can have different meanings.

Investigation of Car-Train Crashes

The first tip offered to law enforcement officers investigating a vehicle-train collision is to avoid stopping police or emergency vehicles on or near the tracks. As in vehicle collisions, officers should protect themselves, the scene, witnesses and approaching vehicles. Administer care for the injured as in any other crash scene. Be aware that if multiple tracks are present, train traffic may continue to pass on unaffected tracks

Determine whether hazardous materials may be involved by asking conductors and other train personnel to see the train's consist and bill of lading documents. …

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