Inattention, impatience cited as leading factors in train-motor vehicle crashes

  • Blog Post by: Tim Harlow
  • February 1, 2013 - 9:35 PM


 Preliminary data out Thursday shows that 12 pedestrians and four motorists died at railroad crossing or while on railroad property in 2012.

That prompted the Minnesota Department of Transportation to remind motorists, snowmobilers and pedestrians to exercise caution and obey state laws when crossing railroad tracks and when walking or driving near them.

There have been no deaths reported so far this year. There were four fatal crashes involving motor vehicles in 2011, according to the Office of Traffic Safety.

The warning comes after a December incident in which a snowmobiler got stuck on the tracks. The owner left the sled to get help. A train hit the sled while he was gone.

"A freight train moving at 50 miles per hour may need more than a mile to stop," said Bill Gardner, MnDOT's freight, rail and waterways director. "Once train engineers see a vehicle or pedestrian in a crossing or on the tracks, they can apply emergency brakes. However, it's often too late for them to stop in time."

Driver and pedestrian inattention and disregarding traffic control signals were the leading causes of collisions and fatalities involving trains, said Jessica Wiens, a MnDOT spokeswoman.  

Traveling at unsafe speeds, chemical impairment, and improper turns also were among the most common factors contributing to crashes.Vehicles that stall on the tracks or have defective brakes or skid out of control, and weather were cited by the Office of Traffic Safety.

MnDOT urges the public to be aware of the following rail safety tips:
Snowmobilers and motorists should:
-       Stop when crossing gates are down or lights are flashing
-       Wait for the crossing gates to rise and lights to stop flashing, look both ways, listen and proceed with caution.
-       Get out of the vehicle/off the snowmobile immediately if it stalls while crossing the tracks, and call 911 or the emergency notification number located on the railroad signal equipment.
-       Be aware that trains may operate any time throughout the day and night in either direction.
Snowmobilers should:
-       Cross only at designated, public crossing areas.
-       Know that riding on railroad property is illegal and unsafe. Railroads generally own the land that extends about 50 feet on each side of the center of the track.
Motorists should:
-       Always keep the vehicle behind the white lines when stopping at or near railroad tracks.



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