Take steps to reduce train accidents

June 21, 2013 

In reading descriptions of fatal train accidents involving pedestrians, there is always a looming question: How in the world could someone get killed by a train, given the various crossing signs and the simple fact that locomotives can be seen coming? Train tracks also are a pretty good sign that the possibility of an approaching train is at some point pretty strong.

But accidents happen. And this year, there have been 15 people killed in train-related accidents in North Carolina. Given that the year is not yet half over, that’s a stunning figure when considering that last year, there were 18 fatalities over 12 months.

Most of the deaths this year were pedestrians. It would be unfair to blame all of those deaths on bad judgment alone, though that would seem a likely cause. Some deaths are invariably connected to alcohol and homelessness. Others, perhaps, are part of foolhardy adventures. And yes, there still are occasions when people think they can make it across the tracks ahead of a train and stumble or miscalculate. There have been instances as well where motorists made a wrong judgment or got stuck on the tracks. And some have been hurt or killed in the past when they actually drove around crossing arms.

Doubtless the state can’t guarantee everyone’s safety, all the time, 100 percent. Personal judgment is involved. But it was a good idea to get various groups together at a summit. And some worthy ideas did emerge.

First, the most dangerous crossing sites will be examined and perhaps re-engineered, even to the point of raising the road or the rail, one over the other. Preferable, if it’s safer, would be to improve the crossing warnings.

And DOT is likely to try to eliminate some rail crossing sites entirely.

With the driver’s license program, DOT, through the Division of Motor Vehicles, knows something about education, and could add a video on rail safety to driver’s education. There might as well be a chance to take advantage of state-of-the-art communications, with text alerts going out to cellphones near a railway crossing at a time when a train is coming. These ideas came out during the summit.

It’s true that bad human judgment can’t be overcome in all circumstances. But the state could embark on a public education program outside of driver’s ed, as it has on other issues, to simply make people aware of the dangers here.

Parents and grandparents also could do something, in taking the young ones to train stations to watch the big engines and the passenger cars roll by in the name of fun...and some education. And once kids get up around 4 years old, they’re moving through the first toy train stage and are ready for a ride on a real one. Again, a great opportunity.

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