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Practicing Railroad Safety for Drivers and Pedestrians

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According to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, from January to October of 2012 there were a total of 8,940 railroad accidents/incidents. Of those, there were a total of 607 fatalities.

Out of the 8,940 accidents/incidents in the ten month period, 36.8% of the accidents/incidents were attributed to human factors, 11.39% were attributed to equipment defects, and 15.71% were attributed to miscellaneous causes. Other factors included track defects accounting for 33.33%, and signal defects accounting for a mere 2.69%. (FRA)

According to the FRA's preliminary 2009 statistics, there has been an 84% decline in collisions. The FRA has helped reduce vehicle collisions from the 1972 high of around 12,000 yearly incidents down to the 2009 record low of approximately 1,900 incidents.

The FRA expects that rail transportation shall see an increase in the growth of rail, freight, passenger, light and high speed trains in the future. Thanks to advancements in engineering, along with a boosted ridership and a promise to create more trains and tracks than ever before. For the FRA, increasing the public's knowledge of rail safety has become an increasing cause for concern despite the lower incidences of railway deaths. For this reason, the FRA has made great efforts to educate people about trains in order to reduce the likelihood of train/vehicle collisions and pedestrian/train collisions.

The FRA expects the freight transportation demand to almost double by the year 2035, that is if the present market trends continue the way they are going. If this is the case, railroads will see an 88% increase in tonnage over this period. (Source: DOT Strategic Plan 2010-2015) Amtrak, one of the largest passenger carriers carried more than 30 million passengers for 2011; Amtrak predicted that those numbers would increase to 60 million by the year 2050.

In 1972 Operation Lifesaver was created to improve engineering and law enforcement efforts in order to reduce the numbers of injuries and fatalities at highway-rail grade crossings. The programs were responsible for an 84% decrease in incidents since 1972. Despite the dramatic improvements in injuries and fatalities, there are still nearly 220,000 private and public crossings that are in use today; therefore, improving the safety at those crossings and maintaining those numbers remain a constant challenge.

Despite the decrease in injuries and fatalities with trains, today's modern, technology-driven society produces new challenges for railway safety advocates. For example, it's important for educators and parents to teach children about the dangers of walking with earphones and headphones near tracks, the same goes for people who drive.

At railway crossings passive signs and active traffic control devices have been installed to warn and guide traffic. Passive signs are used to alert motorists that they are approaching a highway-rail grade crossing, and active signs are electronic devices that warn motorists of the presence and the approach of a train.

As a driver of a vehicle near a train, it's important to remember these following words of wisdom: 1) never try and race a train to a crossing, you could die, 2) the train you see is closer than you think, let it go by before you cross the tracks, 3) don't ever drive around the lowered gates, it's against the law and can be fatal, 4) if your car stalls on the tracks, get out immediately and don't run in the same direction as the train because you could be hit by flying debris, 5) if you need to cross train tracks, do it at a designated crossing, look both ways and cross quickly without stopping, and 6) always expect there to be a train, freight trains do not operate on set schedules!

As a pedestrian, the rules are slightly different. If you live or walk nearby a train, keep in mind that it takes the train's locomotive engineer one mile to stop a train; therefore, if he sees you walking on the tracks he won't be able to stop in time. Trains are wide and they overhang the tracks at least three feet on both sides of the tracks; any loose straps can hang out even further. If you walk alongside of the train, you can be hit by the train and killed.

Never cross tracks after a train passes because a second train may be behind the first. Since trains can come from both directions, make sure you look right and left before crossing. Flashing red lights are there to indicate that a train is approaching. If you fail to obey these signals you could be fined, so whatever you do DO NOT cross the train tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it's safe to proceed. Finally, be aware that trains do not operate on set schedules; therefore, you need to expect that a train can come at any time day or night! If you are somehow injured by a train whether you are an employee, a passenger, a driver or a pedestrian, please contact an attorney right away to discuss filing a claim for damages.
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