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Why Are Railway Crossing Accidents on the Rise?

The tragic accident in New York that left a driver and five train passengers dead is just the latest in a string of recent crashes at railway crossings. While fatalities at train crossings have declined in recent years, they are on the rise again. Although the cause is not yet clear, experts believe the improving economy, aging infrastructure, and distracted driving may all play a part.

As detailed by the Insurance Journal, preliminary data from 2014 suggests that deaths at rail crossings likely reached the highest level since 2010. Last year, 239 fatalities were reported through November, according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data. By comparison, deaths at train crossings had plummeted from 359 in 2005 to 230 in 2012 before creeping up again.

The number of overall railway crossing accidents is following a similar trend. Crashes at railway intersections totaled 3,066 in 2005 and 1,933 in 2009, which represents a 37 percent decrease, according to the FRA. The number of accidents climbed to 2,096 in 2013, with 2014 totals expected to be even higher.

As for what’s behind the uptick in train crossing collisions, experts have yet to single out one particular cause. Potential contributors include more vehicle and train traffic, distracted drivers and conductors, and the need for railroad improvements.

Given the risks, we would like to share Operation Lifesaver’s safety tips for railway crossings:

  • The train you see is closer and faster moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
  • Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That is the equivalent of 18 football fields.
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.