Three Deadly Myths About Train Accidents

After someone has been killed in a train crossing accident, people often wonder how it could happen. Why didn’t the driver see and stop for the train? This question arises out of commonly held but incorrect beliefs about train crossings: deadly myths.

Myth #1: Railroad Crossing Accidents are Rare

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) defines “Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Incident” as any impact between a rail user and a highway user at a “designated crossing site.” A train hitting a car, truck, or motorcycle at a crossing would be a reportable “incident.”

Last year, 2,373 crossing collisions were reported to the FRA nationally, resulting in 2867 deaths and many more injuries. Texas was an unfortunate leader in those statistics, with 228 collisions and 17 deaths in 2008. As you consider these statistics, keep in mind that the accuracy of the FRA’s information depends upon the data collection and reporting processes of the nation’s railroads. The FRA admits: “It is not possible to identify reportable events that were omitted from a railroad’s submission.” In other words, the numbers could actually be even higher.

Myth #2: Drivers Can Always See An Approaching Train

Trees, vegetation, buildings and other structures along a road leading to a crossing can block a driver’s view of an approaching train. If the road intersects railroad tracks at a skewed angle, the driver might not be able to see an approaching train. Where more than one track is present at a crossing, a parked locomotive and/or rail cars on one track can obstruct the view of an approaching train on the other track.

The American Association of State Highway Officials recognized the importance of site distance to crossing safety as least as far back as 1954: “Site distance is a primary consideration at crossings without signals or gates. The condition at a railroad grade crossing is comparable to that of intersecting highways where a corner site triangle must be kept clear of obstructions.” Drivers must not only be able to see an approaching train, but have enough time to stop before reaching the track.

Myth #3: Crossing Collisions Occur Because the Driver Broke the Law or Tried to Beat the Train

Drivers in Texas approaching a railroad crossing equipped only with the familiar “Railroad Crossing” sign, known as a “crossbuck,” are required to yield the right-of-way to a train in “hazardous proximity” to the crossing. Although it might seem obvious, Texas courts have recognized that drivers must have a reasonable opportunity to learn of a train in hazardous proximity to a crossing before they can be expected to yield the right-of-way. As at least one court has noted, “[e]very railroad crossing is a place of danger.” However, Texas law recognizes that some crossings are “extra-hazardous.” A crossing is extra-hazardous if it is “so dangerous that persons using ordinary care cannot pass over it in safety” without some warning other than the crossbuck sign.

A crossing may be classified as extra-hazardous if a permanent condition (such as a building), or a temporary condition (such as parked railcars), obstructs a driver’s view of an approaching train. The railroad has a duty to use extraordinary measures to warn drivers of an approaching train at extra-hazardous crossings. Extraordinary measures might include gates, signal lights, bells, or a railroad employee waiving a flag. The railroad may be held responsible if the failure to provide such warnings results in a collision with a vehicle attempting to cross its tracks. In other words, a crossing accident may occur not because the driver was careless, but because the railroad was careless in failing to provide adequate warnings at an extra-hazardous crossing.

Mississippi Train-Log Truck Accident

A Canadian National freight train crashed into a log truck in Perry County damaging nearly a dozen box cars and tankers filled with molten sulfur.

Mississippi Highway 198 was blocked for several hours following the accident.

Michael Pol, assistant to Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown, said he lives near the scene of the accident and arrived shortly after the collision. The truck was southbound when the train hit it.

Pol said he contacted the Mississippi Department of Transportation rails division to report the incident. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality assisted in the cleanup of debris and spillage from tankers. According to Pol, molten sulfur is not toxic unless it catches fire, emitting an acrid smoke.

Boy On Bicycle Killed By Train

One boy was killed and another was hospitalized in West Virginia following a train accident. Authorities say a boy under the age of 14 was riding a bike near the Van Clevesville Road railroad crossing when he was hit by a train.

Authorities are still investigating the incident, but say the deceased boy was visiting from another area. The other boy was taken to the hospital. Police have not determined why the boys were on the track at the time of the accident.

MARC trains were stopped in both directions while crews cleared the scene.

Most passengers called for someone to pick them up. One passenger said, “I just want to get as far away from here as I can. I’m just sick over this. A child died.”

New York Train Derailment

A CSX freight train crossing Factory Street in Gouverneur derailed shortly after 1:00 p.m. June 19. A source at the scene indicated that the cars were loaded with steel inbound to Cives Steel in Gouverneur.

It appears the loaded cars were simply being moved to a different set of tracks in between Scotch Settlement Road and Factory Street when the derailment occurred.

A representative from CSX indicated that the 12-car train was serving local industry between Watertown and Gouverneur. CSX confirmed that the three derailed cars were bound for Cives Steel in Gouverneur and that a portion of the track was peeled over, though this could have been the result of the derailment and not necessarily the cause. CSX was still investigating the derailment.

This is the third derailment in St. Lawrence County in the last two months.

Family Members Promote Change After Deadly Crossing Accident

Sunday was the two-year anniversary of the crossing accident involving a stolen SUV full of kids that hit a train stopped on Archer Road in east Harris County near Baytown, Texas. Four teenagers died in the crash and family members of some of the victims are pushing for changes that could save others.

Some things at the intersection have already changed. A new crossing arm has replaced the old sign that was there, and better lighting has been installed.

It was a dark summer morning when the SUV packed with kids smashed into a Union Pacific train parked at the crossing. Loral and Macy Moyers were just two of four teens killed in that wreck. Their grandfather, Donald Moyers, is on a mission to promote train safety. “Any movement that I may start is not to hurt the railroad companies, but to help them,” Moyers said. Moyers would like to make trains more visible at night, proposing replacing current yellow markings on railcars with red ones signifying what he believes would be a clearer stop. “It should be horizontal,” he said. “It should be the length of every single car on both sides.”

Moyers also wants railroad companies to require these markings before any railcar is allowed on the tracks. It’s a goal he hopes prevents other people from experiencing his same kind of pain.

Union Pacific said the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sets guidelines for the markings and that each car meets those guidelines. They also say their thoughts and prayers are with the families of those four teens.

The driver, Bobby Davis, is serving eight years in prison for the crash. He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter and is presently serving his time in a juvenile facility. When he becomes an adult, he will either be sent to prison or released on parole.

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