Collision a reminder of danger at train crossings

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 2, 2008

Tuesday’s collision involving an Amtrak train and a WasteManagement garbage truck near Crystal Springs should serve as areminder of the dangers associated with unprotected crossings andthe need for continued efforts to improve safety at allcrossings.

Robby Burt, new director of the Mississippi Department ofTransportation’s Rails Division, said approximately 40 percent ofthe state’s 2,347 rail crossings are protected with gates and/orsignals. The remaining 60 percent have standing warning signs androad markings advising of an upcoming crossing.

For the unprotected crossings, Burt said MDOT uses around $2.8million in federal funding to install safety devices. At around$150,000 to $225,000 per crossing, he said MDOT is able to do onlyeight to 12 a year.

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In prioritizing which crossings are addressed, MDOT uses FederalRailway Administration guidelines that take into account the numberand speeds of trains, the number and speeds of vehicles and thenumber of accidents in the past at a given crossing.

Burt said the Copiah County crossing where Tuesday’s accidentoccurred was Number 136 on the state list. He speculated theaccident could move the crossing up on the list when new FRA datais released.

According to Burt, Copiah County has 35 protected publiccrossings. That leaves about 19 public crossings that areunprotected.

Lincoln County has 40 public rail crossings, including 11 thatare protected with both gates and lights and two with lights only.Twenty-seven are unprotected.

Without congressional action, Burt was skeptical that the $2.8million the state receives for rail crossing upgrades would beincreased.

Counties and railroad companies may install crossing safetymeasures. However, at potentially $200,000 or more per crossing,that is an expensive proposition to consider for counties facingtight budgets.

Of course, one way to reduce collisions at train crossings restswith motorists and their paying more attention to theirsurroundings.

Burt cited Operation Lifesaver’s 3 Ls of Look, Listen and Live.Look for oncoming trains; listen for a train’s whistle and live foranother day.

Among its safety tips, Operation Lifesaver urges motorists toalways expect a train to be at a crossing. And motorists shouldnever “race” to beat an oncoming train because, even it’s a tie,the driver loses.

And we will add it is the height of stupidity to try to goaround or through gates at protected crossings. It is difficult tomaneuver in the space between the gates and a vehicle could stall,thus creating a dangerous situation for the motorist and possiblyothers.

Trains are fast-moving vehicles that are unable to stop in ashort distance. Therefore, transportation officials and thetraveling public need to do everything possible to recognize thedangers involved and to maintain safe operations around railcrossings.