Trains are used everyday to transport goods across the nation. These trains pass straight through Duval and Jim Wells Counties. Even with the trains passing daily, many times throughout the day, motorists and pedestrians tend to get impatient, and put themselves and others in danger when they disregard railroad crossing safety measures.
Recently, a young man died in San Diego when his vehicle crossed the railroad crossing and struck a train. The impact from the incident caused the empty boxcar to land on the young man's vehicle.
“We need to remind and teach people about the do's, don'ts and dangers of railroad crossings,” said Billy Punches, Kansas City Southern Operation Lifesaver Volunteer.
Texas Operation Lifesaver is the non-profit public rail safety education program in Texas that educates the public while promoting safety.
In 2018, there were 2,214 train collisions, 270 train-related fatalities and 819 train-related injuries, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“Last year, Texas ranked number two as far as highway railroad crossing incidents,” Punches said. “Texas has always been top two or three as far as trained-related incidents as well as trespassing-related injuries.”
“In general, for an incident like (the one in San Diego) not to happen, we must go back to the beginning. Be educated – red flashing lights mean stop, gates down mean they are protecting that crossing, look both ways and reduce distractions at crossings. A train can travel either direction at any time, day or night.
A train hitting a car is like a car hitting a soda can – it'll crush it...Trains cannot stop quickly.
As you approach a railroad crossing, always expect a train.
The average freight train traveling 55 miles per hour takes a mile or more to stop. That's at least 18 football fields. The train can cause serious injury or death.
“We are talking about life, about human life. There's no substitute for safety. Pay attention to the signs...The train always has the right of way and there could be serious injury for those who disregard railroad warning signs...There's no second chance,” Punches said.
If there is a malfunction at any crossing, the railroad companies need to be made aware before someone gets hurt. If you see a problem at a crossing, report the problem.
Every crossing has a phone number posted on a blue and white Emergency Notification System (ENS). This sign should be posted near the crossing and be clearly visible. The ENS sign includes the name of the railroad, the railroad's emergency contact number and the USDOT National Crossing Inventory Number. Using the information on the ENS sign is the quickest way to notify the railroad.
“Driving around gates is dangerous and illegal. If there's a crossing where the lights are flashing and the gates are down but no train is visible do not attempt to cross. Take the safest course and proceed to the nearest open crossing,” Punches stated.
Punches has seen more incidents with motorists than pedestrians, especially individuals walking on the tracks. Walking on the tracks is just as dangerous.
“Tracks are for trains not people.”
“Train incidents are always unfortunate, but the public needs to know the dangers associated with trains,” said Alice Police Chief Aniceto “Cheto” Perez.
Perez and Punches remind pedestrians and motorists that they can be cited for trespassing railroad property (tracks) and for disregarding the warning signs.
“It's better to lose one minute of your life than lose your life in one minute,” Punches said.