As trains approach, ‘people need to slow down and wait’

Posted Friday, Nov. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Train safety tips • Freight trains don’t travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains change. Always expect a train at a highway-rail intersection. • Never walk on tracks; it’s illegal and highly dangerous. • The average locomotive weighs 200 tons. That makes the weight ratio of a car to a train proportional to that of a soda can to a car. • Trains have the right of way 100 percent of the time, even over emergency vehicles and pedestrians. • Trains can move in either direction at any time. Sometimes their cars are pushed by locomotives instead of pulled, which is especially true of commuter and light-rail service. • Today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale “clicketyclack.” Any approaching train is always closer — and moving faster — than you think. • Remember to cross tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and to obey all warning signals. • Stay alert around tracks — no texting, headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train. Never mix rails and recreation. Source: Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting awareness of train hazards

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Summer Jones said she can’t understand why drivers try to beat the Trinity Railway Express through rail crossings.

“I don’t mind waiting,” said Jones, whose work in the 1500 block of Carson Street takes her over a nearby TRE crossing at least twice a day. “After hearing about all the wrecks, we’re all horrified.”

Three times in the past five weeks, drivers have tried unsuccessfully to beat the commuter train across street crossings. The most recent crash was Monday evening, when a pickup tried to cross Carson Street in front of a TRE train. The driver had non-life-threatening injuries.

In the two other crashes — at Carson Street on Oct. 1 and at Calloway Cemetery Road on Oct. 19 — two people were killed. No one on the trains has been injured, but the crashes caused serious service disruptions for commuters.

TRE officials can’t explain the sudden increase in collisions, because nothing has changed about the TRE’s operations.

“All 38 crossings on TRE’s 35 miles of track have gates of one form or another,” said Joan Hunter, a spokeswoman.

At the Calloway Cemetery Road crossing, where Mohammed Al-Tayyeb was killed, the TRE has installed five gates (crossing arms) because of the convergence of roads that approach the crossing at sharp angles.

Long before Al-Tayyeb’s crash, the extra gate was installed to ensure that drivers could see the warnings from any direction, Hunter said. But it doesn’t prevent drivers from ignoring the warnings, and that’s the way virtually all the wrecks happen.

Hunter said it’s “common” for engineers to see drivers weave through crossing arms.

Though the TRE doesn’t keep track of all collisions, Hunter said, seven crashes have resulted in fatalities since the TRE began operating in 1996, three of them coming this year.

Besides the two deaths in October, the other fatality happened in May when a driver tried to beat a train at a crossing in Irving.

On the south side of the Carson Street crossing are makeshift memorials, one of which has the name “Amanda” etched into a cross. Amanda Moore, 37, of Fort Worth died Oct. 8, a week after she was one of three people severely injured when, witnesses told police, the driver of a small car tried to beat the train through the crossing.

Playing Russian roulette

It’s a story as old as the road itself, said Delbert Sanders, who has lived virtually all his 76 years a couple of blocks south of the crossing. In the middle of the last century, the train was a streamlined passenger carrier, part of Burlington’s fleet of Zephyrs.

“When I was a teenager, we had a Zephyr that came through here running fast, the same as the Trinity train does now,” Sanders said. “There were a lot of people killed. I remember when four or five kids got killed one Sunday.”

Trying to beat a train — especially one like the TRE, which reaches 79 mph in some stretches between stations — is like playing Russian roulette, Sanders said. Though the people who make it through are lucky to be alive, there’s an easier way to win.

“People need to slow down and wait,” Sanders said. “That’s all you need to do.”

With TRE trains, drivers don’t have to wait long, Hunter said.

“It’s usually less than a minute from the arms coming down to them going back up,” Hunter said.

The Star-Telegram timed the arms at the Carson Street crossing Thursday morning and found that they typically stop traffic for less than 50 seconds.

“What’s a minute waiting for the train to go by compared with your life?” Hunter said.

That’s a message Sally Tingle wishes her brother had heard before he tried to beat a train.

“He died the same year this organization started — 1972,” said the executive director of Texas Operation Lifesaver.

Running red lights

The number of crashes has declined considerably since the national Operation Lifesaver organization began educating anyone who would listen about the hazards surrounding trains — from crossings to train yards to bridges to just the thousands of miles of tracks that crisscross America, Tingle said.

In 1972, train-vehicle collisions had climbed to about 12,000 annually, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. By 2012, that number had dropped to 1,967. In those crashes, 946 people were injured, and 273 died.

In 2012, Texas had almost twice as many collisions — 227 — as the next-highest state, California — 122. But California had more fatalities, 39 to 35.

Almost all these collisions can be avoided if drivers simply obey the law, Tingle said.

All crossing arms have a couple of red lights that flash and one on the end that stays solid, Tingle said. The solid red light means the same thing as its counterpart at an intersection: Drivers can’t proceed until the red light is off.

“Everyone who goes around a gate has run a red light,” Tingle said. “It means stop, and the police can enforce that.”

Haltom City police gave the driver who got hit Monday a ticket for “disregarding a signal at a railroad crossing.”

A Municipal Court clerk said the violation will cost him $203.

It could have cost him his life.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans

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