Racing a train can throw you off track
Heading up to the cottage each year means we tend to drive on a variety of different roadways; some city roads, freeways and highways. With the secondary highways often come railway crossings. In Canada, roughly 30 people every year die from being hit by a train and roughly 600 more in the US. That’s 630 vehicular deaths more than there should be. Having 630 people die because a large, loud, marked vehicle hits you? How can a train sneak up on you?
Most railway crossings are marked with either signs or lights or both. Some busy areas also have gates that drop to let drivers know not to cross. If this is the case, why are drivers and/or their passengers struck by a moving train every year? Did they attempt to beat the train? Did they even spot the warning signs or warning lights?
For the most part, it takes a train 2 km’s to stop. From that point the engineer can’t even see the intersection yet, so knowing they need to stop just isn’t going to work. It’s really your job as a driver to keep you and your passenger’s safe while approaching the tracks. You need a plan of attack, so to speak, so here’s what you need to do.
By looking well ahead you’ll need to notice the warning signs, crossing gates and/or flashing lights. If they aren’t flashing, don’t just ignore them; there may be a malfunction with the lights or gates and they may not activate when they should. Since this is the case and the fact that not all railway crossings have these warning devices, we still need to know how to cross the tracks safely. To ensure you can cross the tracks safely, reduce your speed, turn down your radio, open both windows if you need to improve visibility and look both ways. Always assume there will be a train approaching each time you scan up and down the tracks. since a train could be approaching, you’ll need to scan the tracks before you reach the tracks.
Once while I was out with one of my students we were approaching a railway crossing and my student didn’t think it was really necessary to scan the tracks because the lights weren’t flashing and the gates were still up. However, as we scanned to our right we spotted a rail worker driving their work truck along the tracks and were trying to get the last of their coffee out of their cup as they were approaching the road. They had taken their eyes off the tracks while they approached us. We ended up stopping and tapping the horn to warn the driver. He stopped, but spilled his remaining coffee. Honking at a train would be a complete waste of your time and effort, but this time it worked out because of the type of vehicle that was approaching. It also worked out because if we assumed there wasn’t anything on the tracks, there may have been a collision.
Always expect a train each time you approach a railway crossing. The trains aren’t always on a time schedule and can be there at any time. Never try to beat a train across the tracks. Even if it’s a tie; you lose!