I’ll never forget that one horrible thing that gave me nightmares when I was a teenager. It was that scary drivers education film showing the freight train hitting the motor vehicle. That image affected me for years. And, if I were classless and immature, I would tell you that because of that film I wet the bed for many years. Okay, I did…and you know how my parents broke me of it? They bought me an electric blanket.

Today, it’s a sad coincidence that I have been asked to write this week’s comedy defensive driving blog about railroad crossings when, just this week, there was a horrific railroad crossing accident in Midland, Texas. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, a train hits someone in America every 115 minutes. And nearly 2,000 Americans are killed and injured at railroad crossings each year. The train involved in the Midland tragedy was traveling at 62 mph and had 80 cars. It took more than a minute to come to a complete halt. An average freight train weighs twelve million pounds and can take as long as 1.5 miles to stop. So, once the engineer sees your car on the tracks, and applies the brakes, the train won’t likely be able to stop in time. The weight ratio of a train to a car is about 4,000 to one. This compares the weight ratio of a car to an aluminum can. In short, your Honda Accord could become a Honda Accordion because the train always wins.

Federal regulations require warning lights and sounds to activate at least 20 seconds before a train rolls through a railroad crossing. And the engineer is required to blow the train’s whistle (two long blasts followed by a short one) at least a quarter of a mile before reaching the crossing. This regulation is true, unless it is considered a “quiet zone” where it is prohibited to sound the horn (such as a residential area) unless there is an emergency.
The positive train control system being implemented nationwide should help to save lives by sending wireless messages that automatically slow or stop trains when they aren’t operated in accordance with signal systems or various other safety rules.

Since nearly two-thirds of all collisions occur during daylight hours, driver inattention must be the major cause. Usually, people are trying to beat the train or they get stuck on the railroad tracks during bumper to bumper traffic. If this were to happen to you, the best thing to do would be to get out of the car. You can always replace the car. But make sure you grab some of those favorite cd’s. They may be hard to replace. And run the direction the train is coming from, at a 45 degree angle away from the tracks (you may want to keep a protractor in your glove box for this). In rural areas, the issue is usually hitting a freight train in the side, at night. When it is dark outside, dark freight cars can blend in with the dark sky. So, you may not see it until it is too late. Again, paying attention does have it’s benefits.

Until next week…

Daun Thompson
Writer / Artist / Comedienne