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Roads, rails can create safety issue

Q: What are the speed limits for trains in Lincoln County?

A: It appears officials don’t necessarily know, or aren’t forthcoming with those answers. Unofficially, Amtrak trains can travel up  to 79 mph outside the city, and freight trains can travel at 59 mph, according to a railroad worker. Both must travel slower within the city limits, he said.

With trains regularly zooming through the city day and night, now is a good time to remember some rules of the road, and the rails.

Last year, there were 34 crashes at railroad crossings in Mississippi, seven of which were fatalities. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, since 2008 there have been 15 accidents — with one fatality — in Lincoln County.

Most crashes at railroad crossings are preventable. The Mississippi Department of Transportation highlights the importance of safety at railroad crossings around the state to prevent crashes and fatalities.

“MDOT plays a supporting role in railroads across Mississippi,” said MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath. “Over 2,600 rail miles are supported through safety efforts at crossings by providing oversight in safety and traffic control on all public at-grade crossings.”

MDOT’s rails engineer inspects crossings each year to determine the need for lights and gates, creating a prioritization list. Using federal funding and guidelines, design and construction of lights and gates at crossings occur based on metrics such as sight distance, number of vehicles crossing, including the percentage of school buses and trucks, number of trains on the rail line, speed of the trains and whether they may be carrying hazardous materials.

MDOT works with cities and counties to offer guidance on other warning devices to increase safety at railroad crossings for the public. They also work to separate state-maintained highways from railroads whenever possible.

“While MDOT  can make these crossings as safe as possible by adding appropriate warning devices and constructing overpasses, it is also the responsibility of motorists to make sure they know what to do at a railroad crossing,” McGrath said.

With safety as the number one priority, MDOT offers these tips for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists:

• Trains and cars don’t mix. Never race a train to the crossing.

• 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.

• 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.

• Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.

• 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.

• If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

• 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.

• Always expect a train. Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

• Call for help. Each crossing location has a sign with identification and phone numbers to call to alert the dispatch for the rail line of any crossing issues.