Safety

Coloradans urged to help #STOPTrackTragedies during Rail Safety Week

In late September, CDOT, Operation Lifesaver Inc., and Operation Lifesaver Canada joined forces to observe Rail Safety Week in North America. CDOT dedicated the week’s efforts to the memory of the victims of a devastating crash in Bent County on Friday when an Amtrak train crashed into a vehicle at a marked crossing on HWY 50. Both occupants in the vehicle died in the crash.

As part of Rail Safety Week, the organizations released new videos in their ongoing public awareness campaign aimed at saving lives near railroad tracks. The campaign, called #STOPTrackTragedies, features videos with the personal stories of people affected by rail crossing or trespassing incidents — including victims, friends, and family members, locomotive engineers, and first responders. One video was released each day over the course of Rail Safety Week, and the full campaign can be viewed at stoptracktragedies.ca or oli.org

In addition, new videos released by CDOT provide warnings about crossing railroad tracks where there may not be gates or signals, known as passive crossings. Such crossings are common in rural areas of the state. Friday’s crash involved a passive crossing in a rural area of the state. 

Between 2013 and 2017 in Colorado 14 people were killed and 36 were injured in vehicle-train crashes. Every year in North America, 2,100 people are killed or seriously injured around tracks and trains — often at at-grade crossings.

Operation Lifesaver works with CDOT to prevent crashes from happening at rail crossings. Upgrading high accident exposure at grade railroad crossings statewide with warning lights and gates is part of the CDOT Whole System Whole Safety program.  CDOT joins the Public Utility Commission in supporting motorist safety and education awareness for railroad crossings through Operation Lifesaver.

“In Colorado, and nationwide, safety at railroad grade crossings is a critical issue that we must address through improvements like signals and through reinforcing the need for all travelers to be especially careful at these intersections,” said Shoshana Lew, Executive Director of CDOT. “Rail Safety Week comes at an especially sad time, on the heels of a tragic rail crossing accident last week, and we must stay focused on our core mission, to save lives and get everyone home safely.”

By law, trains always have the right of way, and avoiding a train collision is the responsibility of the driver, pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist. A train cannot swerve, stop quickly or change directions to avert a collision. A train traveling at 55 mph requires a mile to stop – the length of more than 17 football fields – after applying the emergency brakes.

“Our goal with #STOPTrackTragedies is to show that making an unsafe decision around tracks and trains – whether it’s to play on railway equipment, use tracks as a shortcut, or even glance at your cellphone at a crossing – can have devastating consequences for you, your loved ones and members of your community,” said Sarah Mayes, National Director of Operation Lifesaver Canada.

CDOT urges motorists to follow these tips to stay safe at railroad crossings:

  • When approaching a railroad crossing, slow down, look and listen for a train on the tracks, especially at passive crossings where there are no gates or warning signals.
  • Look carefully in both directions before crossing a rail track, even during the day.
  • Do not rely on past experience to guess when a train is coming. Trains can travel from either direction at any time.
  • Never race a train. It is easy to misjudge a train’s speed and distance from a crossing.
  • Before entering a railroad crossing, check that there is enough room on the other side of the tracks for your vehicle to cross completely and safely. Be aware that you may need to cross multiple sets of tracks at some railroad crossings.
  • Never stop on railroad tracks. Keep moving once you have entered the crossing. To avoid a vehicle stalling, never shift gears on the tracks.
  • If your vehicle stalls on a railroad track, quickly move away from the track and your vehicle at a 45-degree angle. Call the phone number on the Emergency Notification System sign or, if the sign is not visible to you, dial 911 for help.

In 2018, 270 people were killed at railroad crossings, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration which was a 10-year high.  Of those, 99 people died after the driver went around lowered crossing gate arms.  In fact, from 2014–2018, the 1,538 drivers that were struck accounted for 14 percent of all train collisions—these were preventable crashes caused by risky driving behaviors and poor decision-making. 

Visitors to stoptracktragedies.ca and oli.org are asked to join OL’s campaign by sharing the videos and other messaging on social media using the hashtags #STOPTrackTragedies and #RailSafetyWeek.

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