Operation Lifesaver: Keep safety on track

Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

September 18, 2013

Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit, continuously active, national public information program to help prevent and reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities, and improve driver performance at the nation’s 300,000 public and private highway and rail grade crossings.

This week we’ll educate drivers on the dangers that can occur when ignoring safety precautions at railroad crossings safely. Janice Cowan, state coordinator of South Carolina Operation Lifesaver, is our guest.

Motorist safety

— Trains and cars don’t mix. Never race a train to the crossing. Even if you tie, you lose.

— The train you see is closer and faster moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.

— Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields.

— Never drive around lowered gates. It’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.

— Do not get trapped on the tracks. Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.

— If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out of the vehicle immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car, you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local enforcement agency for assistance.

— At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.

— When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.

— Always expect a train. Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

Pedestrian safety

— The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a cross buck, flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined. Cross tracks only at designated or roadway crossings.

— Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine. If you are in a rail yard uninvited, you are trespassing and subject to criminal prosecution. You could be injured or killed in a busy rail yard.

— It can take a mile or more to stop a train. A locomotive engineer who suddenly sees someone on the tracks will likely be unable to stop in time. Railroad property is private property. For your safety, it is illegal to be there unless you are at a designated public crossing.

— Flashing red lights indicate a train is approaching from either direction. You can be fined for failure to obey these signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing, and do not cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it is safe to do so.

— Do not hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles. There is only clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges. Never walk, run, cycle or operate all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks, rights of way or through tunnels.

— Do not attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost you a limb or your life.

Bicyclist safety

— Crossing tracks on a bicycle requires caution and extra attention. Narrow wheels can get caught between the rails. If possible, walk, don’t ride across. Always cross at a 90 degree angle.

— Use only designated crossings. The only legal and safe place to cross railroad tracks is at a designated public crossing with a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate. Crossing at any other location is trespassing and illegal.

— Turn off music and remove earphones at all rail crossings. Music and cell phones can be a deadly distraction near the tracks, preventing you from hearing an approaching train.

— Wet train tracks can be slippery. Dismount and walk your bike across the tracks. Step over the tracks, not on them to avoid slipping.

— Watch out for the second train. Wait after the first train passes until you can see clearly in both directions.

— If you see a train coming, wait. Flashing lights or a lowering gate means a train is approaching. Do not proceed until the gates go completely up and the lights go off. It is illegal to go around lowered gates, whether on a bike, on foot, or in a vehicle.

For more information about highway-rail grade safety or to schedule a free presentation for your school, work place or group, call S.C. Operation Lifesaver State Headquarters at 803-206-9081 or visti