Another vehicle / train wreck

This time it is a semi truck versus train wreck In NC and everyone loses.

After WWII the Marshall Plan used U.S. monies to rebuild the rail systems of most of Europe and Japan. Those rail systems were then redesigned to have rail lines go over or under roadways, thereby eliminating crossings where vehicles and trains could conflict.

But in the ensuing 70 years the U.S. has failed to similarly redesign / rebuild our road and rail systems to get rid of thousands of vulnerable rail crossings. Really stupid IMHO.

…still reading, still learning…still paying taxes, still waiting for bureaucrats to learn

This is a great example of why private industry owning infrastructure is a problem. The railroad companies own the tracks. They’re not willing to make the crossings safe because it would cost them money. Train vs car wrecks usually barely scratch the paint on the locomotive, so it’s not like they’re being financially hit by the occasional crash. There’s no economic incentive for them to make railroads safe.

Even better, the rail companies own the tracks, but they don’t own the roads that cross the tracks. So when the rail company decides to alter the tracks, the public is left with whatever mess they made of the road.

There’s a crossing near where I live where the rail company decided to re-do the tracks so that they were banked as they crossed a road on a curve so that the trains could go faster through the area. The banking of the tracks meant that the road crossing the tracks was now a launch ramp. A local news station had video of cars bouncing in the air off of this thing, because of course the rail company didn’t bother to even put up signs warning of the jump.

Now the city that owns the road is having to fight to get the railroad to help them pay to make the road safe again, and of course the railroad is not interested.

Infrastructure should not be in the hands of for-profit corporations, because the rest of the country should not be at their mercy when the infrastructure goes wrong.

But in the ensuing 70 years the U.S. has failed to similarly redesign / rebuild our road and rail systems to get rid of thousands of vulnerable rail crossings. Really stupid IMHO.

Europe had to rebuild because the RR system was almost completely destroyed. RR’s were high targets during WW II.

It probably is a good idea to get rid of all RR crossings in the US. Anyone want to venture a guess as the cost? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over a trillion dollars. That question comes up every now and then in MA when ever there’s an incident. And the last estimate I heard just for the Boston MBTA was well over 10 billion…some saying as high as 100 billion. Some lines would have to be rerouted.

I’m not waiting for bureaucrats to learn, I’m waiting for drivers of motor vehicles to learn.
There is absolutely no feasible way to make every grade crossing an overpass or underpass. Out here in the rural west the tracks will pass a county road every mile.

The minimum markings for a grade crossing are a round sign with a pair of cross bucks below it. Not even a stop sign in many cases, and certainly not a set of cross arms coming down to block the intersection. Most of the reason for this is cost. There are over 212,000 grade crossings in the United States.

To me, the responsibility lies with the driver of the motor vehicle. While I’m sitting here at my computer desk typing I can fully guarantee I will not be hit by a train. The ONLY way to get hit by a train is to be on their tracks. The locomotive is over 10’ wide, over 15’ tall, has a flashing light and a very loud blaring horn. If you know you’re crossing their tracks how do you miss something so big? What do we expect the train to do, swerve?

It is impossible to make every grade crossing fully safe. The biggest burden is on the motor vehicle driver. But relying on American drivers to pay attention is an uphill task.

Yep there’s lots of stuff we could do if we wanted to spend the money on it. That means of course maybe doubling what we pay for taxes. No thanks, I just got mine done and it hurts.

A couple days ago there was another 22 year old killed on the interstate. Truck was parked on the side of the road with the flashers on due to engine problems. Jersey barriers on the side of the road. Kid tried to squeeze into the three foot area between the truck and the jersey barrier. Killed instantly. No matter what you do there are going to be people that find a way to get killed.

Whether public or private ownership though, the costs are the same and the public still ends up paying in the end, whether through taxes or increased prices from the private carriers. There’s no free ride.

There’s are two crossings within a mile of my house that have no gates, just flashers that don’t always work. Both crossings are between sharp curves in the track less than 100 yards both diections from the crossings. Trains are supposed to sound the horn but because of the steep embankments, heavy trees lining the tracks, and the curves it is harder to hear the horn at those crossings at any time than it often is to hear them at night a mile away at my house. After one close call 30 years ago when the flashers weren’tworking and I heard nothing when I stopped short and listened through the car window opened, yet almost got hit when then crossing, I have mostly avoided driving those roads. What is scary is that multiple school busses cross at both locations.

I think most people agree that there’s a problem. And there’s other problems besides collisions. 10+ years ago a man died while being transported to the closest hospital (in Nashua NH). Ambulance had to wait almost 1/2 hour for a train to pass. They said that 1/2 hour could have made the difference.

The cost to repair this mess is HUGE. Even if we just fixed the top 10% the cost could be over $100,000,000,000.

I agree that it would be prohibitively costly to modify ALL crossings. But many could be somewhat upgraded and made safer. And those crossings heavily used by cars and trucks in congested areas should be modified to separate vehicles from crossing tracks.

Since it’s too expensive to fix, I guess we should just take a little extra time to look for train traffic when passing over at grade crossings. I know that I do, and I imagine that all of you do, too.

Agreed Marnet, if there’s a crossing that is very dangerous, such as visual and audio barriers, they should be upgraded.
Unfortunately, the Railroad’s use crash data as their criteria for upgrading a crossing. They do their initial due diligence when the tracks are constructed, looking for sight and sound obstructions, multiple tracks, heavy use and school zones. These crossing get first shot at the limited pool of money. Beyond that, if there are multiple fatal crashes at a particular crossing they will add safety equipment.
The problem is the grade crossing fatal crashes can be, and are, so random. You can have a crossing that has not had a crash of any kind in over fifty years, then on the last day of school a Suburban loaded with students gets full broadsided killing them all. The devastated community is quick to point a finger at the railroad, but it was the high school driver who pulled in front of the train.
Driver education for all ages should be at the point of grade crossing safety.

The cost of revamping RR crossings in my county alone here in OK would be astronomical so I don’t think that’s the answer. The roads are checkerboard fashion on mostly flat terrain and see light use mostly. One RR line alone would involve hundreds of over or underpasses for a relatively few vehicles.

I realize that many around here don’t follow the methodogy but when approaching a track with no lights or barrier (many in the country here don’t have anything other than a RR X sign) I always slow down, look, and don’t blindly assume a train is not approaching.

Just a couple of weeks ago here in OK someone got whacked when they tried to drive around the barricades with the lights flashing and all.
About 10 years ago an OU student from SC jogging in mid afternoon trotted right past a long line of stopped cars in Norman near the university, around the lowered barrier with flashing lights and ding-donger, and was promptly flattened by a freight train.

How does anyone fix a total lack of common sense? It’s tragic what happened to the young man but Jeez; cars lined up 30 deep in broad daylight, bells, lights, barriers, and like a lemming he went right over the analogical edge.

Many of the most dangerous crossings are at entrances to businesses or farm roads, where there are quite a few trucks and farm equipment, but not enough general traffic to warrant grade separation. Thousands of farmers have to cross tracks to get to some of their lands. Those crossings are poorly maintained and have no warning lights or gates.

In cities there has been quite a lot of overpasses/underpasses built in recent decades, some driven by safety, but also by longer trains causing bigger traffic tie ups. Locals suddenly decide an ugly overpass is better than waiting for long trains. Lines that operate frequent passenger trains are also looking to reduce grade crossings. Several major streets between San Francisco and San Jose have new crossings and more are scheduled.

Sort of on point here, recently there have been lots of train-vehicle crashes in the news, and it looks like there are massive derailments as well. Do trains really try to slam on the brakes and stop themselves in these situations? Why? It seems that if a train is running along at 50-75 mph and comes upon a vehicle on the track, it makes no real difference whether it tries to brake or not. Why not just ease off the throttle and roll to a stop, even if that’s a half mile down the way? And, do trains have anti lock brakes? Every time I see the aerial shots of a train piled up behind the locomotive it looks like the cars just ran up against the locomotive. It should just keep going, not try to stop abruptly.

Just my thought.

Braking trains is a complex business, and they don’t have anti-lock brakes. Every wheel of every car in the train has a brake shoe. If some of them lock up, there are still hundreds more that aren’t locked. Also,the main value of anti-lock brakes in cars is that you lose most of your steering if the wheels are locked. Obviously not an issue for a train.

Trains can often see obstacles a long ways ahead. Not usually far enough to stop, but enough to slow the train before impact. Slowing improves the chances that the obstacle will clear the tracks and makes the resulting collision milder. Remember the train crews are also facing significant risk if they hit a vehicle, so they want that collision to be as gentle as possible. They brake because it is the only effective way to slow a train. Steel wheels on rail roll easily, and a train can roll for a very long ways before coming to a stop. Especially if the tracks are heading downhill.

“Why not just ease off the throttle and roll to a stop, even if that’s a half mile down the way?”

Trains have data recorders, just as cars and planes do, and if the Engineer of a train was found to have NOT attempted to brake his train in the face of danger, that would likely put his job in jeopardy. Think about it…If the train’s engineer made no attempt to brake the train, wouldn’t that raise questions such as…Was he asleep at the switch?

Can you imagine the interrogation of that engineer?
Q: Why didn’t you make any attempt to brake your train?
A: I didn’t think that I could stop the train in time, so I chose to not even try to apply the brakes.

It just seems like the act of emergency braking cause a great deal of damage to the train and its contents and passengers, perhaps worse than the impact with a stopped vehicle. I wonder if there is any science to back up what is being done now?

Had the men who built the railroads in this country known how the future would be, they may have elevated the tracks especially in the cities where there is so much traffic. But when the railroads were built…it was to carry freight and passengers from city to city in a country growing in leaps and bounds. The need to haul grain, coal, oil, gravel, ore, and all the other needs for industry, were the basis for building the rail system that we have now. Not to mention all the finished product and food product, that was hauled also.
I doubt that the builders ever imagined three engines pulling 100+ cars loaded with iron ore across the country in two days with only a couple of fuel stops along the route.

I’m sure we could look at roads (streets) that were designed back 75+ years ago and complain about their design too, but at the time the builders thought that it was the best design that also accommodated growth. They just did not know how big the need for roads would be 50+ years into the future.

I have to hand it to them on the design…even though there needs to be some change in the more populated areas.

The small town where I grew up in Wisconsin, had a Train station that was built from granite shipped in from the Rockies. Two side by side tracks and a train every 18 minutes in one direction or the other.
I know this because the station has been turned into a restaurant and this history can be found on the back of the menu.
Now there is one train about every 40 minutes with one set of tracks, and if you sit at a table in that restaurant…30 feet from the tracks…you’d never hardly know a train is passing. That’s one sturdy building!!!

The Heyday of rail is long gone, but the railroads have to manage with what they have. I cannot imagine the railroads changing all the rails…even over a 20 year period.
And Popular Mechanic’s said when I was young, “we’d all be flying to work in the 21st. century”!!!


I would strongly imagine that if an audio tape recording of the train engineers were released after every run one would find a lot of intermitttent cursing which coincides with auto roadway crossings after seeing yet another car determined to beat the train.

I think engineers also make every effort to stop because they don’t want to kill anyone. They have no way to know if anyone is in the vehicle until they get close. Then they may see the face of they person about to die and play it over and over again in their head until they die. I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.

One of the most used tracks in our town is right on the edge of downtown, on the banks of a river, and right where the passenger station used to be is a highly used crossing. Raising the tracks would require building up the grade for at least a mile to allow the necessary low rise for trains. Of course then it would be higher than the station and would be too high for the bridge the next crossing down. Lowering the roadway would put it under water 90% of the time. Just really no good options. Same problems of course on the highways and the cross roads for them.

Around here, because of the increase in oil, coal and grain traffic that might be reduced a bit with the pipeline, blocking access to hospitals is a big concern. One way or another there needs to be at least one access to hospitals that will not be blocked by train traffic. That to me would be a high priority and worth the money, whether the tax payers or the railroads pay for it.