Caution is a must near railroad tracks

Although most Americans today know the dangers associated with drunk driving, distracted driving or texting while crossing the street, many are unaware of the risks they are taking around railroad tracks.

According to preliminary statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, 614 pedestrians were killed and 526 injured in trespassing incidents on railroad tracks in 2021, with an additional 236 fatalities and 668 injuries resulting from vehicle-train collisions at rail crossings. In fact, every three hours in the United States a vehicle or person is struck by a train.

In Michigan in 2021, there were eight trespasser deaths and three injuries, along with six grade crossing fatalities and 20 grade crossing injuries. The use of headphones has likely been a factor in some of these incidents.

In our distracted society, people may become complacent or might not understand the need for caution near railroad tracks and trains. Pedestrians and drivers often simply do not realize that it is dangerous and illegal to walk on railroad tracks or how long it takes the average freight train to stop.

In an effort to prevent further tragedies, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan Operation Lifesaver are partnering together to raise rail safety awareness during Rail Safety Week this week.

Michigan Operation Lifesaver, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, works every day to make communities safer by offering free rail safety education programs. Michigan Operation Lifesaver also conducts free training classes for first responders, school bus drivers and professional truck drivers, along with other public awareness activities to help reduce these incidents and save lives.

Here are some track safety basics:

— Freight trains don’t travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains often change. Always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection at any time.

— All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks; it’s illegal trespass and highly dangerous. It takes the average freight train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile — the length of 18 football fields — to stop. Trains cannot stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.

— The average locomotive weighs about 400,000 pounds or 200 tons; it can weigh up to 6,000 tons. This makes the weight ratio of a car to a train proportional to that of a soda can to a car. We all know what happens to a soda can hit by a car.

— Trains have the right of way 100% of the time over emergency vehicles, cars, the police and pedestrians.

— A train can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail, putting the safety zone for pedestrians well beyond the three foot mark. If there are rails on the railroad ties, always assume the track is in use, even if there are weeds or the track looks unused.

— Trains can move in either direction at any time. Sometimes its cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.

— Today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale “clackety-clack.” Any approaching train is always closer, moving faster, than you think.

— Remember to cross train tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings, and obey all warning signs and signals posted there.

— Stay alert around railroad tracks. Refrain from texting, headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train; never mix rails and recreation.

Everyone can save a life in their community by sharing the rail safety message and remembering this simple phrase: “See Tracks? Think Train!”

Go to the national Operation Lifesaver website at https://oli.org/ to learn more.


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