21 July 2007

Two tragedies – two days – one railroad track

Lately our area has been beset by two railroad crossing tragedies over the course of two days involving the same train. On Monday, 16 July 2007 in the afternoon four people lost their lives in Lakeland when an Amtrak train headed to Tampa struck their vehicle. The next day on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 near Plant City another person lost his life when the truck he was driving was struck by an Amtrak train.

Before I go on further please let me express my condolences to the families of the persons affected by these railroad crossing tragedies. It’s sad when you lose a loved one, especially one who was a part of your life for so many years.

From reading the news media reports surrounding the circumstances of what happened it appears that these recent tragedies could have been avoided had precautions have been taken when one approaches a railroad crossing: Stop, look and listen! From what I understand from watching the pictures on TV the Monday incident was caused by what I believe to be someone in a hurry to get somewhere. Being in a hurry a car was driven across a railroad crossing with its signals activated and the gates lowered. The car was driven around the lowered gates with the end result being fatal. Moreover, the Tuesday incident I believe (from the news reports) was the result of someone driving a truck and under estimating the length of time it would take to clear the railroad crossing in relation to an approaching train coming at about 70 mph.

When we are in a hurry to get somewhere such as to work, to a doctor’s appointment or to a movie show we sometimes underestimate safety on the highway when we drive. In fact, not too long ago Russ Handler (Bay News 9’s traffic reporter) recently wrote in a new traffic blog entry about inconsiderate drivers; I made a comment to this blog that sometimes inconsiderate drivers are people in a hurry to get somewhere.

After all, driving safety should not take a back seat especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere. But we can learn from the railroad crossing tragedies of recently as to what you should do when you approach any railroad crossing, public or private:

Slow down and be prepared to stop.

Always make a head check of the tracks just before you cross. Yes there are signals and gates to protect you but it’s up to you to make sure it’s safe to cross.

Be aware of certain vehicles which must stop at all railroad crossings such as school buses, public transit buses and tanker trucks.

When you see the railroad crossing signals activated and the gates start to lower, stop at the marked stop bar just before the gate and stay put until the train passes.

If the railroad crossing gates are already lowered, do not enter! Driving around lowered crossing gates is against Florida Statutes (Section 316.1575) which can result in a traffic stop by a police officer and the issuance of a Florida Uniform Traffic Citation which carries a hefty fine and points on your record. If the fear of a traffic citation doesn’t scare you, the ultimate penalty is a needless loss of life for trying to save a few minutes, especially to be on time. So don’t do it!

Never, ever race a train to the railroad crossing, period! It’s always the train wins and you lose! Besides, no one wants to see that car, truck or SUV you are making payments on turned into a useless heap of scrap metal made possible by a heavy locomotive coming down the tracks at 70 mph.

In short, when you see a railroad crossing ahead of you slow down and be prepared to stop. When the railroad crossing signals start and the gates start down, stop and wait until the train passes and the crossing gates go back up. After all, as the saying goes an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.