About 2,000 vehicle-train collisions occur each year at rail crossings, the Federal Railroad Administration reports. These railroad accidents take about 250 lives and injure more than 900 people annually.
The toll of railroad injuries and deaths includes the deaths of two people in the Baker neighborhood of Denver in the summer of 2013 when their car apparently went out of control, ran through a crossing arm and collided with a train, according to a CBS Denver report.
Other accidents have taken place at the busy railroad crossings at Derby Avenue and County Road in Yuma and at Plum Street in Fort Collins, according to findthedata.org.
The Federal Railroad Administration has taken steps to increase safety at railroad crossings. Collisions, fatalities and injuries are down dramatically from the early 1980s, when crashes were occurring at an average of 7,400 a year, with 600 deaths and 2,600 injuries.
Because of the size disparity between trains and other vehicles, drivers and passengers in cars and trucks are likely to come out on the losing end if they’re hit by a train. In fact, a motorist in a train wreck is nearly 20 times more likely to die than a motorist in a crash with another automobile.
The force of a 30-car freight train hitting a car is said to be like a car running over an aluminum can, according to Operation Lifesaver. The car doesn’t have a chance.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 75 percent of crashes with trains take place within 25 miles of a motorist’s home.Such collisions may occur when daredevil or impatient drivers try to beat trains across the track, the agency says.
Psychologist Marc Green of Pennsylvania writes on visualexpert.com that drivers are most likely to lose a race with an approaching train because they underestimate its speed. He blames inadequately designed warnings for many accidents at crossings.
Wrecks also can occur when vegetation or another object blocks motorists’ view of the tracks. If a crossing doesn’t have arms, a motorist might not be adequately warned by the lights and bells that are supposed to stop traffic.
Poorly maintained tracks and the failure of engineers to maintain proper speeds can be factors leading to derailments and other accidents. In some situations, drivers fail to heed flashing signals because the flashing usually begins far in advance of the train and drivers may assume the train is not close to the crossing. Green also contends that flashing lights at railroad crossings are inadequate because the bulbs have less intensity than those at typical intersections. Thus, motorists’ eyes don’t respond the same way, hurting their reaction time. Moreover, sunlight can obscure signals, and dark backgrounds can make flashing lights more difficult to see.
Because trains can come from either direction and can be quiet, Operation Lifesaver encourages motorists to obey all warning signals and take precautions around train tracks, especially if using headsets or cellphones.
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