As California remains number one in the nation for fatalities at railroad crossings, Caltrans reminds Californians to remember the risks and dangers around trains and railroad tracks and to practice safe behavior around them during U.S. Rail Safety Week (Sept. 24-30).
With at-grade rail crossing fatalities in California up nearly 80 percent between 2015 and 2016, this is an opportunity to remind pedestrians and motorists how they can help reduce the uptick in incidents and fatalities across rail networks in California.
“It is vital that people understand that it is never worth taking a shortcut across the tracks or trying to beat a train by driving around the railroad crossing gates,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Rail Safety Week is an opportunity to remind motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians to stay alert around railroad tracks.”
According to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics, fatalities at at-grade crossings rose 79.3 percent from 2015 to 2016, ranking California as number one in the nation for that statistic as well. An at-grade crossing is a location where a public or private road, street, sidewalk or pathway intersects railroad tracks at the same level. Injuries and fatalities can occur when drivers attempt to drive around lowered gates or do not completely clear the crossing.
Caltrans is doing its part with several projects to improve safety by better separating pedestrians and vehicles from railroad crossings. For example, major safety improvements are underway at the Rosecrans and Marquardt Avenue intersection in Santa Fe Springs, a railroad crossing determined to be the most hazardous in the state by the California Public Utilities Commission. A $130 million grade separation will be built, with construction scheduled to begin as soon as January 2019.
Similarly, two miles of elevated tracks were built in Burbank, eliminating street level crossings at Buena Vista Street and San Fernando Road. The $40 million rail project not only enhanced safety at these crossings, where fatalities have occurred in the past, but also will do so for a future crossing at a new Interstate 5 interchange under construction at Empire Avenue.
FRA statistics also rank California as number one for trespass casualties in the nation, with 101 deaths and 90 injuries reported in 2016. This is a 17.4 percent jump from 2015. Injuries due to trespassing jumped a whopping 73.1 percent from 2015 to 2016. Trespassers are by definition illegally on private railroad property without permission. They are most often pedestrians who walk across or along railroad tracks or trestles as a shortcut to another destination. Some may be loitering, while others are engaged in recreational activities such as jogging, hunting, or taking photographs.
Whether a driver, pedestrian or transit user, Caltrans reminds all Californians to always keep the following safety tips in mind near highway-rail grade crossings and railroad rights-of-way:
· Trains Can’t Swerve Nor Can They Stop Quickly. A typical freight train can take more than a mile to stop, even when emergency brakes are applied – the distance of 18 football fields!
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.
· Stay Alert. Trains can come from either direction at any time and can be very quiet. Around train tracks or in stations, obey all warning signs and signals and use caution when using headsets or cell phones.
· Always Expect A Train. This is especially critical where there are multiple tracks because the sound of one train can mask the sound of a second trail coming on another set of tracks. Also, freight trains do not follow set schedules.
· Cross The Tracks Only At Approved Crossings. It is illegal to cross railroad tracks at any other location. If walking, you can put yourself at risk of tripping on rails or ballast.
· Do Not Try to Beat A Train At A Crossing. It is almost impossible to accurately judge the distance and speed of an oncoming train.
· Do Not Stand Close To The Tracks. A train is at least three feet wider than the tracks on each side. Additionally, a fast moving train may kick up or drop debris.
· Do Not Walk Along Tracks, On Bridges Or In Tunnels. You may not hear an approaching train, and because clearances in bridges and tunnels can be tight, you may not be able to escape an approaching train.
· Don’t Attempt To Jump Or Climb On, Over, Under Or In-Between Rail Equipment. Even an idle freight car can be dangerous.
Never Drive Around Lowered Gates. It’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the emergency 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.
Do Not Stay In Your Vehicle If It Stalls On The Tracks. Get out and get away from the tracks, even if you do not see a train. Locate the Emergency Notification System sign and call the number provided, telling them about the stalled vehicle. If a train is approaching, run toward the train but away from the tracks at a 45 degree angle. If you run in the same direction a train is traveling, you could be injured by flying debris.
For more safety information, visit the Federal Railroad Administration at https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0841 or Operation Lifesaver at https://oli.org/ or http://www.seetracksthinktrain.org/.