Washington, D.C. — Today marks the start of Rail Safety Week 2022 (Sept. 19-25), a national event to raise awareness about safety near railroad tracks. It’s led by Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) in partnership with railroads, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and state and local law enforcement and safety organizations.
Across America, a person or vehicle is struck by a train every three hours. More than 2,100 people are injured or killed every year in crossing and trespassing incidents in North America. These are powerful statistics to reflect on. Education can and does make a difference, led by groups like OLI (and its state chapters). Their efforts have led to an 82% reduction in crossing collisions over the last several decades.
The best way to stay safe is by strictly obeying crossing warnings and gates. But the safest crossing is one that does not exist, and a new federal program provides record funding not only to upgrade crossings with improved gates and other technology, but also to fully separate crossings. The goal of the grant is to improve the safety and mobility of people and goods.
Making the right decisions near railroad tracks can truly be the difference between life and death. Below, we’ve debunked some common myths that lead to unsafe practices around the tracks.
MYTH: I’d hear a train coming.
FACT: Today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale “clickety-clack.” Any approaching train is always closer, moving faster, than you think. Trains can also move in either direction at any time. Sometimes their cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.
MYTH: The train never comes at this time, I can ignore the signals.
FACT: Freight trains don’t travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains change. Always expect a train and always obey all warning signs and signals. Also, never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and potentially deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the emergency number posted on or near the crossing signal, or your local law enforcement agency.
MYTH: These tracks look unused, I can walk on or near them.
FACT: If there are rails on the railroad ties, always assume the track is in use, even if there are weeds or the track looks unused. Likewise, a train can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail, putting the safety zone for pedestrians well beyond the three foot mark.
MYTH: It’s ok to stop on a crossing if I don’t see a train coming.
FACT: Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. If your vehicle ever stalls or gets stuck on the tracks, get out and get away from the tracks, even if you do not see a train. Locate the Emergency Notification System sign and call the number provided, telling them about the stalled vehicle. If a train is approaching, run toward the train but away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle. If you run in the same direction a train is traveling, you could be injured by flying debris.
MYTH: If I get stuck on the tracks, the engineer in the train can stop for me.
FACT: By the time a locomotive engineer sees a person or vehicle on the tracks it’s too late. It takes the average freight train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile — the length of 18 football fields — to stop. Also, the average locomotive weighs 400,000 pounds, meaning the weight ratio of a car to a train is proportional to that of a soda can to a car.
MYTH: Train tracks are a great background for photoshoots.
FACT: Photographers should also keep in mind that railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property. Photo and video shoots on these are illegal and dangerous. No photo, video or selfie is worth the risk—and people mimic your behavior when they see your photos on the web and social media.
For more more information and resources on #USRailSafetyWeek, visit Operation Lifesaver, Inc. at: www.oli.org.