Are more people trying to beat trains at crossings?


There’s a particular crossing I go over every time I go to/from market. Coming at it from one direction, I often don’t do a full stop because you can see a long way in both directions well before you get to the crossing. Coming back, it’s a full stop crossing, because the tree line on that side of the tracks blocks the view.

There’s a federal program that funds upgrading crossings that show a history of collisions. Instead of double-arms on both sides of the track, they fund a raised median and will upgrade the single-arms to be sure they reach the median. The median stops cars from going around the arms.

In the Bay Area, Caltrain unfortunately hit several cars and people a year. In some locations it happens so often that they’ve put up multiple gates, and fences, and tunnels for pedestrians. It’s horrible that people can’t wait, and it’s really hard on the train operators. They kill people and have to live with that.

Circling back to the OP, I don’t know if it’s happening more but as we come out of lockdown it wouldn’t surprise me. We do have PSAs here about it.

When Sacramento extended light rail service to my town, the town wanted to be a “quiet zone” where the trains don’t sound their horns. A requirement for being a quiet zone is to make it impossible (or at least very difficult) for cars to drive around the crossing arms, and therefore they had to put in the medians like you described.

The clever fool could just hop into the oncoming (& ungated) lane before reaching the median.

But then the fool would crash into the arm of the oncoming lane, no?

Here in the Chicago area, we have a big problem with trains hitting pedestrians as well as cars; part of the reason is just the raw number of railroad tracks in the area, as Chicago is the primary rail hub connecting the eastern and western halves of the country.

This article is a little dated, but it shows that, from 2004-2012, there were 338 pedestrian deaths from collisions with trains in the Chicago area, which works out to one death every 10 days; almost 2/3 of those involved trains from Metra (the region’s commuter rail service). Nearly half of pedestrian deaths were suicides.

If you have the ability to see 2 minutes into the future like Nic Cage does in “Next”, you can speed up just in time to avoid getting smashed by a train and escape the police…

It depends on where you’re at. In my area the trains are all freight and the speeds are slow compared to electric passenger trains on the East Coast. There’s a crossing I would routinely drive around because I know how fast a train can travel (due to a curve) and there is great visibility. I also accelerate so the momentum carries the car across in case the engine dies. It’s a no-go if there are passengers in the car as a courtesy to them.

I doubt very many people put that much effort in the decision making process and that’s what kills them. There’s a big difference between “I think I can beat it” and knowing the train can’t possibly hit you.

I don’t know if more people are being dumb, but I do think railroad crossings are really poorly handled at least in the US where I’ve seen them.

Number one, the problem mentioned by @Briny_Deep should be resolved. It should be completely forbidden to leave a crossing in place across the road if the train tracks are no longer in service. As soon as a line is out of service (and have some rules about minimum number of trains having crossed any particular area of track every week/month/whatever to be considered in service) any crossings that go over roads must be removed. Rip out those tracks that cross the road, rip out the signage, etc. There should never be a place where there’s tracks that cross a road but no trains ever go over them, allowing people to get used to crossing tracks without looking. If there are tracks, you should know for a fact that sometimes trains go over them so you need to be wary.

Two: All crossings must have a mandatory sight-distance possible while approaching. Approaching a crossing, you should always be able to see far enough that you can clearly see a train approaching, anytime it is closer than three times the amount of time it takes a slow-moving vehicle to fully clear the tracks. That way if you look and see it’s clear just before you hit the gas to drive over the tracks, you know it’s clear long enough to clear the tracks. And the sight line can’t require nosing your way up until you’re practically on the track; you’ve got to have that much sight well before getting in even the potential danger zone. So, sitting in a car - specifically, one of those oldschool land-yachts with a hood long enough to have a picnic on - you could clearly see the train approaching. If you can’t clear a direct sight-line that long, because of buildings, trees, etc, then the crossing must have mirrors installed so that the driver of the car can use those mirrors to see pretty much directly down the track, and those mirrors need to be well-maintained.

In addition, all crossings must have warning lights. They don’t all need bars, but they must ALL have lights. Two independent/redundant sets of them. This has two purposes: one, to warn people that are too impatient/stupid to stop and look for themselves, but the more important one is to take into account the rise of the self-driving car. Those warning lights need to be of a clear, universal design, easily recognizable by a self-driving vehicle approaching them.

With these precautions in place, it is vanishingly unlikely that anyone could accidentally be on the tracks; anyone on them is there intentionally, or because of their own stupidity.

Which brings me to the final part of the resolution: build the trains (including passenger trains) sturdier so that they don’t have to stop if they hit something on the track, as long as the thing on the track isn’t a damn tank. And make sure the regulations allow them to keep going in case of a collision, as long as the train isn’t in danger.

In addition, automate them so that there’s no person being traumatized by feeling responsible for the deaths of intentional suicides. Some people want to kill themselves, and being hit by a train is a very effective way to do that. We’re probably not going to stop that from happening unless we provided free suicide booths or something to replace the trains, so we should look at minimizing the harm caused to others, like the poor train conductors.

I think the reason that US crossings don’t have bars on both sides is that you don’t want the bars to trap a car inside them. If you enter the crossing just before the bar comes down behind you, then you need to get out of there NOW, and there’d better not be a bar in front of you, too.

I don’t know how other countries address this problem.

They are more intelligent than we.

Regarding ripping up the tracks, I’ve seen the military move variuos large vehicles on trains. It might be a good idea for the Army or National Guard to be able to move large vehicles long distances for disaster relief, let alone, G-d forbid, moving things around for a serious war.

That’s a difficult one to implement, if for no other reason that a collision between a train and a car (or a pedestrian) is, like any other significant vehicular accident, is potentially a crime scene, and needs to be investigated.

And, the possible crime isn’t just one that the car driver or pedestrian may have committed, by ignoring a crossing signal or trespassing on a right-of-way, but the engineer may have also ignored a signal or otherwise also been in the wrong, or the train may not have been properly maintained. All of that needs to be examined.

No, Fool turns back into the proper lane between the tracks. It would be a quick maneuver.

Proper >oncoming > tracks > proper

The point, I think, was that if the US used double-arm crossing gates (which close off both lanes of traffic), if one gets caught on the tracks, there will be a gate blocking off both lanes on the far side of the tracks, blocking an escape.

I agree that people are getting more impatient, and, well, dumber. I can’t back that up with anything except gestures around wildly

There’s a set of tracks on my way to work that are less than 100 feet before a stoplight. When the light is red, and there’s a line of cars, people will REGULARLY stop on the tracks. It boggles the mind.

About 10 years ago, I was less than an hour into an 18 hour Amtrak trip when we screeched to a halt. Turns out we hit a man who was crossing the tracks on foot. Suicide? Impaired? I’ve always wondered.

Don’t the arms come down slowly, and after the lights start to flash, so people can tell that they’ll need to stop but someone who’s already too late to stop off the tracks has time to get through?

Of course, just as some people will think they can beat the train and cross in time, I expect there are people who will think they can get across before the arms come down far enough to stop them.

There’s a spot like that nearby here as well. People always stop on the tracks, because it puts them 15 feet closer to their destination, and that’s somehow important. I not only don’t stop on the tracks, but if a car in front of me has done so, I make sure that I am far enough back that there is plenty of room for them to reverse.

The gates are also fairly easy to knock out of the way. Probably scrape up your paint and maybe leave some dents, but it’s better than being hit by a train.

we used to have freight trains come through a certain major intersection of town and sometimes the train would have to stop for various reasons… well one day day i was walking home from school and it stopped for a half an hour … people were getting pissed and the like

What made it scary was there was a flatbed that had just a bit of wood on it and kids and adult pedestrians were going over and under that flatbed even passing bikes to each other under the train car … apparently it was discussed somewhere becuase the next week we had an assembly on train safety … i mean if that train had jerked suddenly at least 4 or 5 would of been killed …