Editorial: Be alert, cautious at all railroad crossings

A recent train-SUV collision at a railroad crossing near U.S. Highway 190 at Elton is an unfortunate reminder to always be alert and cautious at railroad crossings.

Three people were hospitalized

after the mishap. The driver reportedly drove into the path of a

westbound Union Pacific Freight

train. The driver of the SUV placed the vehicle in reverse in an

attempt to avoid collision, but the train struck the right

front of the SUV.

Fortunately no one was killed in the Elton collision. But in 2011, nine people were killed and 68 injured in train-vehicle

accidents in Louisiana.

It is also fortunate that crashes

and deaths at railroad crossings have declined both in Louisiana and

nationwide. The Federal

Railroad Administration reports that, nationally, incidents at

public and private crossings fell from 9,461 in 1981 to 1,956

in 2011. The national Operation Lifesaver program reports that

injuries and deaths at crossings declined by 84 percent since

the organization was founded in 1972.

Despite the progress, Operation

Lifesaver reports that a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every

three hours. A variety

of causes, such as distracted driving and trying to outrun a

moving train, contribute to crashes at rail crossings. It is

important for drivers to realize that they and their passengers

will almost always be the losers in a crash with a moving

train. A motorist in a crash between a train and a motor vehicle

is many times more likely to die than in a collision between

two motor vehicles.

A train pulling 100 cars traveling 50 mph takes about one mile to stop. The average train weighs 12 million pounds — about

4,000 times more than a car. Then there’s the obvious: A train cannot swerve to avoid a vehicle in its path.

The Louisiana Highway Safety

Commission partners with Louisiana Operation Lifesaver and other

organizations to reduce the

number of crashes at rail crossings. We urge motorists to obey the

flashing lights and lowered crossing gates at rail crossings

— don’t try to drive around them. It’s not only illegal to do so,

but it can cost you your life. We also remind drivers that

you can’t always hear a train approaching if your vehicle windows

are up, air-conditioning is on and music is blaring in your

vehicle. It’s also common for drivers to miscalculate how quickly a

train will reach a crossing.

Obey warning signals as you approach a rail crossing. If there is no warning signal, follow the old rule of stopping, looking

and listening. Doing so can save your life and that of your passengers.

Always be alert and cautious at all railroad crossings.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.