Why Are More People Being Killed At Railroad Crossings In Texas?



Amtrak Train Could Not Stop in Time to Avoid Truck on Track North of Austin

In a horrific collision, 54-year-old Donald Patrick Turner was killed when he drove into the path of an Amtrak train. Why are deaths like these rising in Texas when they are decreasing nationally?

In this case, the fault belongs to the driver. The train collision occurred just before 1:00 p.m. on State Highway 95 and County Road 387 near Bartlett on November 25th. The train was en route from San Antonio to Chicago and had just left the Taylor station when the train hit Mr. Turner’s Chevrolet Silverado. The pickup truck burst into flames and was pushed about three-quarters of a mile down the tracks until the train came to a stop. Fortunately, none of the 239 passengers sustained injuries. The Fort Worth conductor, 58 year-old Edward Hobbs, was treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Texas Deaths Are On The Rise

Deaths in Texas at railroad crossings doubled in 2012, raising questions about whether the industry is safely maintaining and monitoring the 11,000 miles of train tracks in our state. According to the Associated Press, 32 people died at railroad crossings across the state and 34 and 44 people died in the previous two years, much higher than the previous average of 20 deaths a year.Critics believe that the railroads have increased the speed of trains but have failed to adjust the timing of crossing gates. Railroad officials contend that motorists are to blame.

The federal government has implemented new regulations to prevent these collisions which have diminished the number of people dying in these crashes. Only 168 people died in the U.S. through the end of August of 2012, the last year statistics were available.

Train Crossing Deaths

An average freight train travelling 55 mph takes more than one mile to stop. Operation Lifesaver
explains that by the time a train engineer sees a car or pedestrian on
the tracks, it is usually too late to avoid a collision. You are
unlikely to hear or see the train until it is closer than you think
because today’s models do not make the noisy clacking noise we associate with trains and because they often travel at high speed, especially on
long stretches between stations.

In addition, a locomotive typically weighs about 200 tons, but
can weigh as much as 6,000 tons. Compare this to the 3 tons an average
pickup truck weighs. Operation Lifesaver points out that this is the
same weight ratio of a car to a soda can, an image that puts the deadly consequences of being hit by a train into perspective.

Crossing Railroad Tracks Safely 

The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) provides important tips for Texas drivers to cross railroad tracks safely:

  • Always slow down and look for a train before crossing the railroad tracks.
  • Look for trains coming from both directions, particularly when crossing multiple tracks.
  • Listen for train whistles as you approach the gate.
  • Cross railroad tracks only at designated areas.
  • Do not try to beat the train or drive around lowered crossing gates.
  • Never pass another car within 100 feet of a railroad crossing.
  • Be aware that some vehicles are required by law to stop at all railroad
    crossings — such as school buses and commercial trucks carrying
    hazardous materials.
  • Stop 15 to 50 feet from the tracks because the trains are wider than the tracks.
  • Make sure your vehicle is high enough to clear the tracks so you don’t get stuck.
  • If your car stalls on the tracks, jump out immediately and move away from the tracks, then call 911 to report the problem.

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