For most of us, buckling up and putting the phone down when driving or staying on the sidewalk while we’re out for a stroll are automatic safety habits. But did you know there is another real -- and potentially life-threatening -- hazard to drivers and pedestrians? It’s the danger we don’t often consider: driving or walking near train tracks.
Federal government statistics show that, about every three hours in the U.S., a vehicle or person is hit by a train. To raise awareness of the need for caution near tracks and trains, this year’s National Rail Safety Week has taken place September 23-29. The theme of Rail Safety Week is "Stop Track Tragedies."
"Collisions between vehicles or pedestrians and trains are preventable," said Missouri Operation Lifesaver Executive Director Tim Hull. "Missouri law enforcement agencies and railroad special agents will be out monitoring railroad crossings during Missouri Rail Safety Week. We are hoping to change the public's mindset regarding rail safety. Rail Safety Week is a great opportunity to get our message out there!"
Since July 16, Missouri Operation Lifesaver has aired radio messages across the state to stress the fact that it is "no contest" to try to beat a train or even to share a walkway with trains. These ads focus on the safety campaign theme of "See Tracks? Think Train!" Enforcement events are scheduled to deter violations of crossing safety laws and to curb trespassing on the railroad tracks.
"We are constantly striving to reduce crashes and eliminate deaths and injuries with both crossing collisions and trespasser incidents," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Public Information and Education Director Captain John Hotz. "We encourage everyone to take these warning devices seriously and pay attention at all railroad crossings. Also please remember railroad tracks are private property and trespassing is dangerous and illegal."
While vehicle-train collisions in the U.S. have dropped by 83 percent in the last four decades, there are still approximately 2,100 vehicle-train collisions annually across the U.S., and last year saw more than 1,000 injuries and fatalities to people walking, playing or taking photos on train tracks. These incidents are devastating to families, communities and train crew members – and they are often preventable.
In 2017, Missouri experienced three fatalities and 16 injuries in 25 rail crossing incidents; a 30 percent reduction in incidents and a 57 percent decrease in fatalities from 2016. Another nine people were killed and 11 were injured in 18 trespass incidents; a 22 percent increase in incidents and a 44 percent increase in fatalities from 2016.
"MoDOT works with the railroads to upgrade public crossings with lights and gates, LED lights and more reflective signing. With our limited funding, we do 25 to 30 signal upgrades per year," said Missouri Department of Transportation Railroad Administrator Eric Curtit. "We also continue to work with local communities and railroads to improve safety by reducing the number of railroad crossings because a closed crossing is the safest crossing."
Remember, making the right decisions near railroad tracks can truly be the difference between life and death, today -- and every day. Keep yourself, family and friends safe by following Operation Lifesaver’s top five rail safety tips:Look and listen for a train as you approach all railroad crossings -- obey all signs, warning lights and gates. Trains are quieter and faster than you think -- never try to beat a train. Because of their size and weight, it can take a mile or more to stop a train. Always expect a train on any track and avoid distractions when you approach a crossing. Railroad property is private property. Walking on the tracks not at a designated crossing is illegal and dangerous.
Missouri Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade intersections and on railroad rights of way through public education, engineering and enforcement. To learn more about Missouri Operation Lifesaver, visit www.oli.org.