A tragedy over the weekend in Sacramento reinforces the fact that drivers are not careful enough around railroad crossings and that trains are often not visible until it’s too late.
Two adults and a baby, not yet two years old, were killed when the SUV they were in went around the crossing arms and a light-rail train hit the vehicle.
No one knows what the driver was thinking by going around the warning devices, but one possibility that came out in observations of those familiar with the crossing is that the arms often stay down some time after a train has passed.
On this particular crossing there are four sets of tracks and multiple trains had already come by — there are both regular freight trains and the light-rail on that section of rail right of way. Also, a sound wall obscures or blocks the vision of motorists, who may not be able to see or even hear the train until they are on the tracks.
Area residents noted that they often see people driving around the crossing arms and some had worried about just such an incident.
But here’s the deal. Going around crossing arms is just too dangerous and foolhardy, not to mention illegal.
I think we all have seen people do this and some of us have done it ourselves so as not to be inconvenienced by waiting.
And also, there are times when crossing arms malfunction and stay down long after a train has passed.
But bottom line, crossing railroad tracks is dangerous or at least can be and you just cannot afford to let your guard down.
As a professional truck driver I know well the danger of railroad crossings — I’ve had a few close calls. In traffic one can get caught in a line of vehicles when the one ahead of you stops and you are sitting vulnerable on the tracks. Driving a big truck you just can’t let this happen — it would be a lot harder (near impossible) to move out of the way than perhaps in a smaller vehicle where you might, might I say, have a chance of somehow moving your vehicle off (probably not) .
And of course everyone has to be careful about those crossings where there are no warning devices or where you never expect to see a train because it appears to be an old, unused spur line.
Not all that long ago I was in Oakland, Ca. and was on the freeway but I could see the place where I was to deliver and noted that there was a freight train going down the tracks right down the middle of the city street near there. But in the short time it took me to get to the driveway of my delivery point I was no longer thinking for that train. I was startled when as I drove in on the driveway to look to my right and see the headlamp of a locomotive. Fortunately it was not yet in motion. It had backed into a nearby building, but it moved forward not long after I cleared the tracks.
Another highly dangerous situation for motor vehicles is the combination of traffic lights and railroad tracks that you have to cross before entering an intersection.
Years ago my wife and I were watching a TV show about train vs. vehicles collisions. In one, a train ran into the side of a semi-rig, cutting its trailer in two. The train crossing warning signals were not synchronized or connected into the intersection’s traffic signals for motor vehicles. So it was possible to have a green light and proceed over the tracks just as a high-speed commuter train was barreling through. This was in Oxnard, Ca. I noted at the time that I was familiar with that intersection. I told my wife I had crossed it many times and did not realize the problem with the signals. By coincidence a day or so later I found myself at that intersection. And as I recall, I witnessed the phenomenon of the green light and the train coming full speed for the intersection with the warning devices not yet on. Fortunately I was forewarned.
I often face a similar and even more problematic danger in Vernon, Ca. while driving a big truck. There is a crossing with several tracks and it is difficult to make it across all of them before the traffic light turns red again sometimes, what with the other traffic. And it is especially dangerous to try to make a left turn on the left turn signal. By the time I get about in the middle of it all, my light turns red. You either keep going or find yourself a sitting duck on those tracks. And the freight trains use those tracks frequently. I’ve given up on doing that left turn. I go straight ahead and circle around the block.
And I have seen people go around the crossing arms there.
They are fools. They think they are clever.
Well the driver in Sacramento was not clever, but that driver and a baby and another adult are dead.
The stories I read said another adult in the SUV in Sacramento was injured, as were a few people on the light-rail train.