ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minnesota Operation Lifesaver continue their efforts to reduce train-related crashes and fatalities in the state during a month Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed “Rail Crossing Safety Awareness Month.”
In 2013, there were 53 highway-rail grade crossing collisions involving trains and motor vehicles, resulting in six fatalities and 26 injuries in Minnesota. There also were 10 pedestrian-trespasser incidents that resulted in five fatalities and five injures, according to Bill Gardner, MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations director.
To reduce train-related incidents with vehicles and pedestrians, MnDOT will install gates and upgrade crossing signal equipment at 40 locations throughout the state this year. A total of $7.9 million in federal and state funds will be used to provide safer intersections at grade crossings, Gardner said.
“MnDOT is committed to making all modes of transportation safe, and that includes drivers and pedestrians crossing railroad tracks,” he said. “We need these rail crossing improvements to save lives.”
Many of the pedestrian incidents happen because people trespassed onto railroad property in the right of ways along the tracks.
“Pedestrians should only cross tracks where they are marked with pedestrian crossing markings,” Gardner said. “When crossing signals are flashing and the gates are down, it’s illegal to drive or walk around them.”
Minnesota Operation Lifesaver, a statewide, non-profit organization, provides education to schools, community groups, driver’s education programs, professional driving companies, law enforcement and first responders.
“We do what we can to support the 3 E’s: Engineering, Enforcement and Education,” said Sheryl Cummings, Minnesota Operation Lifesaver executive director. “We believe the education efforts of Operation Lifesaver played a big role in the 83 percent reduction of highway-rail incidents at the national level since 1972. We want to help people make safer decisions around tracks and trains because many tragedies can be prevented through education.”
MnDOT and Minnesota Operation Lifesaver offer these tips for drivers and pedestrians when crossing a track:
• Expect a train at any time. You can’t be sure when a train may appear at a crossing, even if it’s one you drive or walk across every day. Freight trains don’t travel on a regular schedule and the schedules for passenger trains can change. Always be alert, because trains can run any time of day or night, on any track, in any direction.
• Don’t be fooled, the train is closer and faster than you think. In the same way that airplanes can seem to move slowly, your eyes can play a trick on you when a train is approaching — an optical illusion that makes a train seem farther away than it really is. It’s easy to misjudge a train’s speed and its distance, especially at night. Don’t take chances. If you see a train, just wait.
• Trains can’t stop quickly or swerve — be prepared to yield. After fully applying the brakes, a loaded freight train traveling 55 miles an hour takes a mile or more to stop. A light rail train takes 600 feet to stop, and an eight-car passenger train traveling 80 miles an hour needs about a mile to stop. Even if the engineer can see you, it’s too late to stop the train in time to prevent a collision.
• Stop and wait when gates are down or lights are flashing. If the gates are down, the road is closed and you must stop and wait. That’s the law. Continue across after the gates go up and the red lights stop flashing,
• Don’t trespass on foot. Tracks and the property alongside them are private property. Stay off railroad cars and tracks. Don’t trespass. It’s illegal and, too often, it’s deadly.
• Don’t get trapped on the tracks. Never drive onto a railroad crossing until you’re sure you can clear the tracks on the other side without stopping. If your car stalls or is trapped on the tracks, get everyone out right away, even if you don’t see a train coming. Move quickly away from the tracks. If a train is coming, move in its direction as you move away from the tracks. If you run the same direction the train is going, you could be injured by flying debris when the train hits your car.
For more information, go to MnDOT’s rail safety web page or Minnesota Operation Lifesaver’s website.