AAA issues reminder on train crossings
You would think it wouldn't be necessary to remind motorists not to drive onto railroad tracks unless they're sure they can fully cross them.
But a couple of recent incidents outside Washington persuaded AAA Mid-Atlantic to issue such a warning anyway. According to AAA, there have been two recent crashes in which a train hit a vehicle stopped on the tracks by congestion up ahead. Fortunately neither resulted in death, even though collisions with trains are 40 times more deadly than crashing into another passenger vehicle, according to AAA.
“Motorists should only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing if they are sure they can completely clear the crossing without stopping,” said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella. “Given the volume of traffic that might be hard to judge.”
The association urged motorists to keep a buffer zone of 10-50 feet between their vehicles and at-grade railroad tracks when stopped nearby -- especially in rush hour.
AAA had some simple advice for motorists whose vehicles do get stalled out on railroad tracks: Get out. Contact law enforcement. If a train is coming, move in the direction the train is coming from so that if it hits the car, flying pieces are less likely to cause injuries.
I would add a nugget of advice for which AAA is not to blame: If you get stuck behind traffic on a railroad track and live to tell the tale, quickly enroll yourself in a driver improvement course. You need it.
Here's the full AAA news release:
IN CAPITAL AREA RAISE SAFETY CONCERNS
Motorists 40 Times More Likely To Die In A Crash With A Train
Than With Another Vehicle
TOWSON, MD (May 12, 2009) – An expectant mother is still counting her blessings after narrowly escaping death and severe injuries during a collision with a MARC train at a railroad crossing in Rockville. Recent vehicle-train crashes in the national capital area have alarmed some motorists and neighbors living near busy railroad crossings and raised concerns about highway-rail grade crossing safety. As gridlock increases in the area, rail crossings blocked by traffic might become a recurring nightmare, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“Motorists are 40 times more likely to die from injuries sustained in a crash with a train than in a collision with another motor vehicle,” said Ragina C. Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “We are concerned that this vehicle - and a bus in an earlier incident -was reportedly caught on the train tracks with no way of escape as the train approached. Apparently, they were trapped by traffic congestion.”
Because the Washington metro area suffers from the second worst gridlock in the entire nation, AAA Mid-Atlantic is advising motorists to keep a safe distance of 10 to 50 feet from railroad crossings, especially during rush hour. “Motorists should only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing if they are sure they can completely clear the crossing without stopping,” Averella said. “Given the volume of traffic that might be hard to judge.”
These occurrences are reminders that a vehicle and train collide about every 90 minutes in the United States, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Roughly 300-400 deaths have occurred annually at an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks. “Many motorists have lost sight of the importance of the old safety rule when approaching a rail crossing,” said Averella. “At all points, we must be prepared to stop, look, and listen. And live.”Fortunately, no loss of life occurred in the recent incidents in the capital area. However, studies show that each year in this country hundreds of people are killed in collisions at highway-rail grade crossings. What is more, thousands of others are seriously injured in such collisions. For example, 2,746 collisions occurred at railroad crossings in 2007, resulting in 338 deaths and 817 injuries, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
In an earlier incident a MARC train and a Metrobus collided at a railroad crossing at an intersection in Riverdale Park, Maryland in late March. Several passengers sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. The bus was reportedly attempting to cross the railroad tracks when it was delayed by another Metrobus attempting to make a left turn. The bus was unable to move off the tracks when the train approached the highway-rail crossing at Queensbury Road and Lafayette Avenue in Riverdale, Maryland, according to local authorities.
“All unsafe conditions at or near grade crossings of the railroad right-of-way should be corrected with particular attention to line of sight visibility adjacent to the right-of-way to traffic signals which stop traffic near tracks,” said Averella.
AAA Mid-Atlantic provides the following safety tips:o If your vehicle stops or stalls on a crossing, immediately get everyone out and far away from the tracks. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
o If a train is coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction the train is coming from.
o If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris.
o Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!
Residents living near the site have raised concerns about safety at the rail crossing in at the busy Rockville intersection. AAA advocates greater use of automatic train approach warning systems at railroad grade crossings when studies indicate an immediate need to provide protection to highway traffic.
To reduce the number of grade crossing crashes, AAA calls upon:
o Police departments to enforce traffic regulations at all grade crossings;
o Railroads to inspect and correct all unsafe conditions at grade crossings for which they have jurisdiction, with emphasis on the installation of reflectorized signs, control signals, lights, bells, or gates, wherever appropriate to indicate the approach or presence of trains;
o Public authorities to inspect and install or replace missing or damaged reflectorized advance warning signs and/or pavement markings;
o Public authorities to investigate the use of overhead lighting at grade crossings to better show the presence of railroad cars during nighttime hours or under conditions of limited visibility;
o Public authorities to consider new, lost-cost technology applications that include human factors in addressing grade crossing safety;
o School and administrators of local safety programs to promote and teach grade crossing safety; and
o The U.S. Department of Transportation to issue regulations providing for improvements in the conspicuity of railroad cars.
According to estimates, there are approximately, 228,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings across the nation. The number of train-vehicle collisions at grade crossings has been reduced by 80 percent from a high of 13,557 incidents in 1978 to 2,746 in 2007 despite significant increases in both highway and train traffic, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. “ Likewise, the number of persons killed as a result of grade crossing collisions has decreased by 70 percent from a high of 1,115 in 1976 to 338 in 2007,” according to the agency.AAA Mid-Atlantic is based in Wilmington, Del., and serves nearly four million members in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey with personal insurance, financial, automotive and travel services through 53 retail branches, regional operations centers and the Internet, at www.aaa.com/community.