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David Mittleman
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Catastrophic Car-versus-Train Collisions Common But Preventable

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America has a long history of relying on railroads to move people and products from one side of the continent to the other.  That’s a lot of ground to cover, and it takes about 140,000 miles of railroad track criss-crossing the country to make it all happen.  Add that to the more than 160,000 miles of highway, and you get a lot of railroad crossings.  According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there are over 38,000 locations where railroad tracks cross roadways.  Unfortunately, each crossing is a potential tragedy waiting to happen.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Trains are constrained to the track, and can’t swerve to avoid a collision.  Depending on speed, it can take a train literally miles to come to a stop.  And the force of a train hitting a passenger car is like your car running over an aluminum can.  The resulting damage and injuries are often severe and frequently fatal.  In Michigan, car-versus-train collisions happened about once per week in 2013.  Nationally, collisions have held steady at about 2,000 per year after declining fairly steadily from as many as 10,000 per year in the early 80s.  It’s up to motorists like you to make sure these crashes don’t happen.  But there is good news: car-versus-train accidents are largely preventable.

Railroad Crossing Safety

Crossings can be guarded or unguarded, with or without flashing lights and alarms.  Still, nearly all crossings will be marked with a circular yellow sign with a black “X” and the letters RR.  This should put you on the alert: proceed with caution.  If alarms are sounding and red lights are flashing, do not attempt to cross the tracks.  Trains can approach quickly and seemingly out of nowhere.  Never attempt to drive around a lowered gate, unless a police officer or railroad official says it’s okay.  No matter how big a hurry you’re in, it’s not worth the risk.