Unusual Railroad Crossing Accident Shows Need For Working Lights & Gates
Brett EmisonFebruary 14, 2011 10:50 PM
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This Chicago Sun-Times article describes a somewhat unusual train accident in that it involves a parked train, however, it highlights the dangers that railroad crossings can pose. A freight train was stalled at a railroad crossing when two cars, one crossing from the north and the other from the south, collided with the train. According to eyewitnesses, there were no flashing lights, gates or other warnings of the stalled train. All four passengers had to be extricated from the vehicles and suffered injuries, however the incident could have been much worse if the train had been traveling at normal speed.
One moment [the driver] was driving down a dark stretch of South Halsted [in Chicago]... [t]he next, he says, he was slamming into a "pitch black" freight train stopped dead across the street.
"There was no lights, no barrier, no flares, no nothing."
This accident shows the dangers of unguarded and defective railroad crossings. My previous blog post gives some statistics about railroad crossings and shows that according to Operation Life Saver, Illinois had the most dangerous crossings in 2008. Their statistics didn’t improve much in 2009, when they had the third most railroad crossing incidents in the country (Illinois was third in both number of accidents and number of deaths). Approximately 40% of Illinois' railroad crossing collisions happened in the six county region of northeastern Illinois (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will and Cook County). Last summer, Illinois was one of ten states ordered to improve railroad crossings to reduce accidents.
In the last 10 years, there have been more than 29,000 railroad crossing collisions resulting in more than 10,000 injuries and more than 3,500 deaths. It is important for motorists to be aware of railroad crossing dangers. Everyone should be cautious when approaching a railroad crossing. Because it is difficult for trains to stop, the railroad company and train crew are required to properly warn motorists of an approaching train. Sometimes, a vehicle's driver can do everything right, but is not given a proper warning.
I've chronicled one Missouri town's crusade to have lights and gates installed at a dangerous railroad crossing. But lights and gates must be in proper working order to provide a safety benefit. Malfunctioning lights and gates may even make railroad crossings less safe, because motorists rely on those devices to warn them when a train is approaching.
In the small Missouri tow, the Union Pacific Railroad had refused to install the warning devices without state or local government money. The small Missouri town simply could not afford the cost.
Railroad collisions have many causes -- most of which have everything to do with the railroad and nothing to do with state or local governments.
- Failure of railroad company to install proper warning devices, such as lights, alarms (crossing bells) or a functioning crossing gate
- Defective warnings -- inoperable lights, bells or gates
- Improper sight lines that prevent a vehicle's driver from seeing an oncoming train until it is too late
- Failure to properly maintain the crossing -- such as allowing overgrown trees, vegetation and other foliage to obstruct or hide an oncoming train
- Improperly parking a train at or near a crossing -- this not only hides an oncoming train from view, but gives motorists a false sense of safety in seeing a parked train at the crossing
- Failure to sound the train's horn or whistle at or near the crossing
- Other negligence that may appear on the train's data recorder or video recorder
Railroad crossing collisions keep happening. Railroad companies need to stop putting profits in front safety. We don't need a railroad safety bailout when these companies have the resources to make their own tracks safe.
[More information on Train Safety]
(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison