RailroadTrain accidents seem to be a common occurrence lately. What are the reasons for this? Are there more trains running than before? The short answer is yes, Utah’s newest additions to the TRAX system now extend to Draper and the SLC Airport. These new additions to the city’s transportation mean more trains running throughout the city. One can expect to see a TRAX light-rail train crossing roadways between 20-40 minutes at any given time. This is great for those who rely on public transportation to get around; however, for Utah drivers it means more things to be aware of while driving. In addition, more shipments are being transported by railways through the United States than ever before.

Below is a list of responsibilities that drivers, railway companies, and legislators should consider in relation to train safety.

Drivers’ Responsibility for Safety

According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis there have been six deaths in Utah from train accidents in 2013 up to September. Recent news adds at least one more to this total. In 2012, the total number of deaths was five. As the number of drivers increases, the number of car-train collisions is projected to increase as well. The likeliness of survival for car passengers in a train collision is slim. The sheer speed and weight of the train can cause serious damage in the event of an accident.

To be safe around trains, remember:

  • Always slow down when you come to a railroad crossing.
  • Never pass a car that is going your direction at a railroad crossing.
  • Do not park closer than 50 feet from a railroad crossing unless signs indicate that you may or it is allowed by local law.
  • When you stop at a crossing, you must be between 15 and 50 feet from the nearest rail.
  • Trains sound their horns as they approach a crossing; therefore, turning down the car radio is a good safety measure.
  • Every railroad crossing should be taken seriously.
  • At night, do not assume that a train is not coming just because you do not see any lights. Slow down or stop and look before crossing the tracks.
  • If lights are flashing, you must come to a complete stop. You may not proceed while the lights are flashing. After coming to a complete stop, if you suspect the flashing lights are not working properly, you may drive through the railroad crossing only if you have a clear line of sight of at least one mile down the tracks in both directions, there is no evidence of an approaching train, and you can cross the tracks safely.
  • Do not drive through, around, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while they are down or being opened or closed.

Pay attention to signs and warnings that are placed near train crossings for your safety. Here is a list of warning signs:

  • Pavement Markings: A stop line, an “X” and the letters “RR” may be painted on the pavement in front of railroad crossings. These markings warn you to be aware of the crossing ahead and to pay particular attention to the possible approach of a train.
  • Railroad Crossbuck Signs: Crossbuck signs are found at all public crossings. If there are more than one set of tracks, a sign below the crossbuck indicates the number of tracks. Be prepared to stop at the tracks if a train is coming. You must yield to train traffic.
  • Gates: Some railroad crossings utilize gates with flashing lights to signify the barrier. Stop when the lights begin to flash and before the gates begin to lower across your lane of traffic. Remain stopped until the gates are raised and the lights stop flashing. DO NOT DRIVE AROUND THE GATES.
  • Flashing Lights: Flashing lights and bells are used with crossbuck signs at many railroad crossings. Always STOP when lights begin to flash or bells begin to ring, which means a train is coming. If there are more than one set of tracks, make sure all tracks are clear before starting to cross.

Train Companies’ Responsibility for Safety

Not only should drivers be safe around trains, railroad companies are working to decrease the amount of accidents by implementing new technologies such as fail-safe systems. Railway companies are looking to replace old controls with more reliable technology to further help train safety. Accidents continue to happen because the engineers react too slowly to warning signs to slow down the trains’ speed, causing a derailment. Derailments not only can cause fatalities but also some trains contain hazardous contents that could quickly lead to catastrophes and an unforgiving public.

Signals

A safety initiative by P & L Railway is leading the new technology improvements to the railways. P & L has received many awards for its safety record– which is not a small feat. Like roads, railways control the trains by using signals (red, yellow, and green) in intersections. Train crews are supposed to carefully watch these signals so as to be able to warn oncoming trains. In incidents such as encountering broken rails, conflicting train routes, and improperly functioning switches, the train conductor needs proper warning in order to stop.

For example, a train traveling 35 miles an hour requires more than a mile to completely stop. Any obstruction on the track within this distance could cause a head-on collision with the braking train. Since most trains travel faster, and as mentioned, may be carrying heavy and hazardous loads, the damage of such a collision could be devastating.

Though these signals haven’t been the cause of many accidents, P & L are looking to get ahead of the accidents and replace these signals with new and smarter technology. They are especially interested in incorporating these new technologies in order to meet the new guidelines set fourth in the International Electro-Technical Commission (IEC) 61508 standard for functional safety of electrical, electronic, and programmable electronic safety systems.

Positive Train Control: Fail-Safes

Congress has ordered railways to install fail-safe systems called “positive train control” by the end of 2015. The new safety system, known as PTC, would be the largest and most complex technical improvement the railroad has ever undertaken. The National Transportation Safety Board has been wanting to implement this new technology for 20 years. The agency says that if the device was implemented in 2004, it could have “prevented more than 20 train accidents that took 57 lives and injured at least 1,000 and caused major damages resulting in millions of dollars in repairs. “ PTC would have prevented two derailments that happened in 2003 and 2005. In both cases the engineers failed to heed the signal’s warning to slow the trains. The train companies need to work together to ensure the public’s safety but unfortunately, these new systems are very costly and all the companies might not be able to make the 2015 deadline.

Legislators Responsibility for Safety

It is also up to the state to pass certain laws that will help reduce the number of car-train collisions. In 2008, an accident near Los Angeles, California occurred as an engineer was texting while driving a train. Twenty-five people were killed in the deadly collision, which received national attention, and later caused a major public outcry.. The California Public Utilities Commission responded to the public’s concern by banning texting on the job. The Commission’s emergency order passed unanimously after the incident. In 2011, the use of cellphones and other electronic devices by railroad crews was officially banned on March 28 by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Train Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility

Train safety is everyone’s responsibility. Whether you are driving near trains, operating the trains, or creating rules and regulations for train safety, it should be of the up-most importance that the operation rules smoothly with zero tolerance for fatalities from train accidents. Be aware and follow the train safety tips listed above, Drivers should be able to avoid accidents with trains. If train companies are able to install fail-safe systems in all trains, then the amount of derailments and accidents would substantially decrease. Government officials should keep this measures in mind when crafting safety laws.

Contact Us

Christensen & Hymas helps victims who have been injured in train accidents that were caused by someone’s negligence. If you have questions or concerns about your injuries, do not hesitate to contact us today to schedule a free confidential consultation by calling (801) 506-0800.

Image copy right to Darren Hester

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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