At a recent Malone Rotary Club meeting, a speaker from CSX, the federal freight railroad system, addressed Rotarians about "Operation Lifesaver", a safety program about railroads. We rarely think of railroads as a threat to our safety, but this speaker reminded us that some 300 fatalities occur yearly in the US from vehicles getting hit by trains at railroad grade crossings, and another 400 plus people are killed by getting hit by a train while walking, snowmobiling, or otherwise trespassing on or along tracks. We also learned that there are some 3,000 collisions each year involving trains, resulting in 1,000 injuries in addition to the previously mentioned fatalities.
So why are trains so dangerous, or are they? Again, like drivers, we don't think about the possible dangerous conditions we put ourselves in like jogging along the tracks, listening to music through ear phones, or snowmobiling along the tracks. How can someone hear a train with so much noise distraction? Other dangerous practices include fishing from a railroad trestle, using a trestle to continue along the tracks, and crawling under a railroad car that you think is not going to move.
Walking or playing on or along railroad tracks is not only dangerous but is also illegal it's private property. The only legal place to cross tracks is at a designated pedestrian or railway crossing.
Trains, because of their size and the fact that they are coming toward you, appear to be moving slower than they really are. Also, modern trains of today are much quieter than previously, and there is usually no clickety-clack like years ago.
Here are a few more safety issues involving railroads. If you are stopped by a train at a crossing, you must stop no closer than 15 feet from the nearest rail. It is illegal to drive around crossing gates in the downed position, and it is illegal to pass any vehicle, including a bicycle, within 100 feet of the crossing.
Another thing to remember about railroad crossings is that certain vehicles must stop at all railroad grade crossings, even if there is no indication of an approaching train. These include any bus carrying passengers, any school bus even if no students are present, motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of greater than 10,000 pounds that transports chlorine, or a cargo tank truck, whether loaded or empty, used to transport hazardous materials. There are some other less common cases where stopping is mandatory.
When a vehicle must stop for a crossing, the driver must drive across the tracks without shifting gears. It is also illegal to stop a vehicle on the tracks. This means you cannot start across the tracks unless there is room to accommodate your vehicle on the far side.
Railroads are not dangerous if we respect the potential dangers inherent with them and obey the applicable laws for our own safety.
For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's web site at: www.franklincony.org and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments.