Safety on the railway

Train accidents can be easily avoided 

By The Schoolcraft 
Connection Editorial Staff

Although it is obvious that trains are large and sometimes dangerous machines, people continue to play Russian roulette on railroads. Every year there are thousands of accidents involving train wrecks in the U.S. alone. According to the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration), a branch of U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 849 recorded train-related injuries, 269 deaths and 2,287 collisions in 2014 alone. This is the highest number of deaths since 2008 when 290 people were killed. Despite this recent increase in deaths, collisions and death in general have both drastically dropped since 1981 where there were 9,461 collisions, 728 deaths and 3,293 injuries.

Train safety precautions need to be taken more seriously so fatal accidents are less likely to occur. Train crashes can often be avoided easily.

Train safety precautions need to be taken more seriously so fatal accidents are less
likely to occur. Train crashes can often be avoided easily.

Richard Trevithick built the first steam locomotive in 1804 and others have since used his design to perfect the train. The idea began with the steam engine, which was invented in the 17th century by English inventor, Thomas Savery. The idea of transportation was first to haul materials, such as coal but also became a form of transportation. Although trains are extremely useful, they do present a risk for accidents, but can mostly be avoided.

Albert Gampp, a man who retired 17 years ago after 43 years of working as a railroad engineer in Michigan, said a car weighs about 4,000 pounds, has about 300 horsepower and carries about 25 gallons of gas, but one locomotive weighs 250,000 pounds, has 3,000 horsepower and carries 3,000 gallons of fuel, making it much more powerful than a car. A train with two or three locomotives and 110 carts is about a mile long and while traveling at 60 mph, it takes about a mile to fully stop. That is why is it imperative that people use precaution around the enormous machines; otherwise, serious injury, damage or death can occur.

People tend to think that a train doesn’t seem powerful moving at such a slow speed, but what they don’t realize is that the train is not stopping, not even for a car. Just recently, Detroit native Rachael Jacobs was killed in an Amtrak crash. According to the Detroit News, “Michigan has the tenth highest collision rate in the country with 78 crashes last year: 12 people were killed and 25 were injured, according to recent figures released by the Federal Railroad Administration.”

Car and train accidents occurred about once a week in 2013, according to statistics from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning; there were 66 crashes in 2014.

Unlike car on car crashes, railroad accidents are extremely one-sided. A direct hit from a train can flatten a car almost as easily as a car can an ant, which makes the most dangerous accidents often occur when a driver tries to race the train.

Public transit and train use is much more wide spread throughout all of Europe than it is in the United States. It is a popular mode of transit and travels at high speeds between different suburbs, cities and even countries. Although trains are used so often, they still remain one of the safest ways to travel in Europe. According to a study of European train safety from 2008 to 2010 from, there are only 0.16 railway deaths per billion kilometers traveled by train. Surprisingly, 69 percent of these deaths are not related to the train at all, but are actually suicide. Train use is more common in the EU, but it is still twice as safe to travel on than a train in the U.S.

Drivers must treat the crossbuck as a yield sign; the driver must stop whenever automatic signals are activated. Drivers are obligated to not exceed the speed limit, be able to stop within a secure and clear distance from the tracks, and drive carefully in all circumstances. Always remain attentive when approaching railroad tracks and look both ways because trains travel in both directions. Most importantly, if the vehicle is boxed in, do not let traffic or the gates stop you on the crossing. If the vehicle stalls or stops on the tracks, remove yourself and all passengers out of the vehicle immediately.

“One accident is one too many,” Gampp said.

People need to take the precautions necessary when crossing railroads tracks; if you don’t, that could be the last time you cross them.