• Defensive Driving Rule #35: Never Play Chicken With a Train

    I am amazed at how often cars race trains to a crossing, in order to just barely cross in front of it. This seems to be a right of passage for young drivers in rural areas as they learn to drive. I have even seen this depicted in Hollywood films, as those "wild and crazy teenagers" are out having fun on Friday night. After a train runs over a vehicle at a crossing, folks often wonder why the car cut in front of the train, when the train was obviously so close and moving so fast. Kids aren't the only ones who do it; impatience on the part of hurried drivers results in hundreds of railroad crossing deaths each year.

    As a train approaches you, an optical illusion is created that masks the speed of the train -- making it appear to be traveling slower than it really is. The illusion is a result of the train's size and the narrowing aspect of the tracks and train as they recede in the distance. Imagine the horror of a driver and the passengers in a vehicle as they cut in front of a train and suddenly realize they have no time to get out of its way. According to Operation Lifesaver (a non-profit railroad safety organization), the forces of a train/car collision are very close to the same thing as a car running over and crushing an aluminum can!

    (Photo by Gerald Thurman) -- It's hard to see in this photo, to the right, but that car has pulled forward so far, that the crossing arm is resting on top of the car!

    Respect the train for what it is -- an irresistible force and remember that your car is not an immoveable object! A train is like an ocean liner -- it may take it more than a mile to stop. Never play chicken with a train by trying to beat it to a grade crossing. Do not drive around lowered gates if the signals indicate a train is coming. Remember to wait after a train passes, until you can clearly see in both directions. Many are killed when they proceed after a train clears a crossing, and a speeding train on a second set of tracks smacks them from the other direction.

    If your vehicle gets stuck on the tracks, do not hang around trying to start it, or push it off, if a train is approaching. Get away! If you have to leave your vehicle behind and you know it is going to be hit, remember to run toward the approaching train, not away from it; the debris from a collision will be thrown ahead of the train and it can overtake and kill you.

    Operation Lifesaver has a video presentation showing a camera crew riding along with a working train crew. Watching it, I was struck by the incredulity of the train crews as they watched car after car (and trucks as well), dart around the gates and try to make it across even as the train was on top of the crossing. The crews see this as a kind of Russian Roulette, and they weigh the chances of each vehicle as it cuts across the tracks in front of them. They laugh nervously, knowing they have absolutely no chance of stopping even if they tried. In 2002, there were over 3,000 car-train collisions in the United States. Don't become a statistic! Be cautious around railroad tracks, and STOP COLD for trains. Click here for more information about Operation Lifesaver.

    Keep the shiny side up!
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. zeik's Avatar
      zeik -
      Don't ever, ever let your vehicle come to a stop on a railroad track. Let the other vehicles clear out beyond the tracks before you move over the tracks.
      I worked for a railroad company and I know what can happen. The train CANNOT stop and the car or truck or whatever always loses the confrontation and whoever is inside nearly always dies.
      Watch for the gate that swings down and don't go past it until after there is sufficient room ahead to completely clear all the tracks. If you don't do this, you are toying with death.