An effort is underway to boost public awareness about the dangers of disregarding railroad crossing laws and trespassing on railroad property.
According to state figures, there were 62 crossing crashes and trespass incidents leading to 23 fatalities and 26 injuries in Missouri last year. In 2014, there were 69 crashes and trespass incidents resulting in 10 deaths and 50 injuries.
Lindsey Douglas with Union Pacific Railroad says the romance associated with trains has led to a risky trend where people are having their photos taken on tracks. “There really is no safe way to do that” said Douglas. “I even saw a photographer use a trick where she says if you place a penny on the railroad tracks, you can hear it coming. There’s absolutely no safe way to take photos on railroad tracks.”
Tim Hull with “Operation Lifesaver,” a non-profit group dedicated to eliminating rail related injuries and deaths, points to an incident where a crew was filming a movie on a railroad trestle in Georgia.
“(They) didn’t tell the railroad about it” said Hull. “They were out there filming it and along comes a train. Not everybody can get off a trestle. So they had one person killed and several people injured in that situation.”
Hull agrees with Douglas that photography has become a big safety issue, particularly with senior high school and sports team photography.
In addition to incidents of trespassing, Hull notes accidents at rail crossings continue to be a major concern. He says more than half of car-train collisions in Missouri occur at rail crossings with flashing lights and gates, which offer the most protections against accidents. “The gates are down. So they have to drive around them in order to be hit by the train”.
However, all five crashes resulting in deaths in Missouri this year occurred at intersections which only have railroad “cross-buck” signs.
At a recent operation in Sedalia, Union Pacific sent a railroad engine on several runs across U.S. 50 at a crossing with flashing red lights, but no gates. In videos below drivers illegally cross, close to train:
Several of the company’s police units were stationed adjacent to the crossing, where they pursued and pulled over drivers who illegally crossed the tracks after the lights started flashing. The officers issued citations or warnings for the infraction, which is a moving violation.
The operation in Sedalia, known as “Officer on a Train,” is repeated at other railroad crossings around the state.
Union Pacific’s Douglas points to a demonstration which she says illustrates the dangers when vehicles collide with trains. “(The demonstration) shows a pop-can” said Douglas. “And a pop can getting run over by the car is similar to a vehicle being impacted by a train.”
Douglas mentioned that a fully loaded train pulling 120 cars travels a mile before coming to a stop after its conductor/operator pulls an emergency brake.
Hull with “Operation Lifesaver” says modern technology allows trains to run smoother and quieter, increasing the possibility pedestrians and driver won’t know when one is close by.
Operation Lifesaver along with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are devoting this week to safety issues along railways.