The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Train Crossing Accidents Preventable


March 21, 2018

Forrest Hershberger

Union Pacific engineer Jon Briggs guides a locomotive over the tracks on the east side of Sidney recent. The exercise was done to show the public and law enforcement how drivers do not always respect the train crossings.

It is a sound that pierces the night sky, echoing across an empty prairie or between peaks as if bouncing off of both sides of a canyon's walls.

Drivers and nearby homeowners complain about it... until it saves their life. It is the bell, the blaring horn, the flashing lights and at some locations the black and white wooden arms crossing the road encouraging drivers to stop, Most drivers stop, some make other decisions that can result in injury or death.

The Union Pacific recently conducted an exercise in Sidney reminding drivers of the dangers associated with a train crossing. The exercise reinforces the mindset that if a driver can see a moving train, stop and see where it is in relation to the vehicle, regardless of the warnings. If a warning light or whistle is activated, wait for it to stop. The Federal Railroad Administration data for 2015 shows that nearly 50 percent of collisions occur at crossings with active warning devices. About a quarter of all collisions occur when the vehicle runs into the side of the train.

Trains can need a mile or more to come to a complete stop, according to Operation Lifesaver Nebraska.

Union Pacific engineer Jon Briggs said road crossings is the No. 1 liability for railroads. The liability is not just collisions between trains and vehicles. It is also the potential for something to fall from the train.

"You just never know what is going to fall off," he said. "Lumber is a big one."

Briggs encourages drivers to stop well before the intersection with the rail line.

Briggs said gates can be activated as early as three-quarters of a mile ahead of the train. The distance is partly based on the speed of the train and weight it is moving. Both factor into the distance needed for a train to stop.

Last week, railroad officials were working the crossing east of Sidney at a Y or split in the tracks crossing Illinois Street. The Y is limited to low speed, about 5 mph. The warning lights are activated about 10 to 20 feet before a train enters the intersection. Train horns are activated before the signal lights.

According to the data provided by the Federal Railroad Administration updated March 10, Nebraska is below the top 15 states in highway-rail crossing accidents.

In 2017, Texas lead the nation in the number of collisions with trains. The 232 collisions resulted in 13 deaths and 76 injuries.

Forrest Hershberger

As seen from inside the locomotive, some drivers pass over a crossing as the train is only a few yards passed. Union Pacific engineer Jon Briggs urges drivers to wait until the warning lights have ceased, regardless how clear the crossing appears.

In 2016, there were 1,297 recorded collisions between trains and motorized vehicles, 500 injuries and 192 fatalities. Trespassing incidents results in 328 injuries and 351 deaths. In Nebraska during 2016, there were 23 collisions resulting in six injuries and three casualties. During the same period there were three fatalities and one injury in the state attributed to trespassing incidents.

In 2015, most collisions with trains occurred with trains traveling under 30 mph. About 64 percent of all collisions occurred in daylight hours, and most collisions within 25 miles of the driver's home.

Operation Lifesaver encourages everyone to "always expect a train! Freight trains do not follow set schedules." The program also encourages people to be aware of multiple track crossings. If one is stopped, there is the possibility of a second parallel to it. Operation Lifesaver also reminds people that trains are closer than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to pass before crossing the tracks.


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