Rail Crossing Safety:
Too Easy to Forget

North Carolina's Operation Lifesaver director, Jane Mosley, sent the following letter to the North Carolina news media in response to the October 1995 school bus tragedy.
The two greatest fears in the life of a train engineer are (1) if he runs into a gasoline tanker, which will kill him and everything around him, or (2) if he runs into a school bus full of children and has to live with himself the rest of his life.

It is a shame that often it takes a tragedy to remind us of what is most precious to us. As we reflect on the tragedy of the school bus that was hit by the commuter train in Chicago, Illinois this past week, we must remind ourselves that the most precious cargo that any one of us can haul is our children. One can only imagine the grief that the parents of the children who died in this crash are going through and also the agony and pain that both the engineer of the train and the school bus driver are experiencing.

The greatest irony of this crash is that the bus driver was also the safety supervisor for the school bus system that she was driving for. Other drivers within the system were in shock when they heard what had happened because she told each of them many times "never stop on the tracks -- make sure you have room to clear the tracks or stop short of them." This just goes to show how easy it is to be lulled into a condition of carelessness. Many times there are so many other things on our minds as we drive down the road that it is very easy to take the highway-rail grade crossing for granted. This is all too often a fatal mistake. The sad fact is that the highway-rail grade crossing closest to your home or work -- the crossing that you go across every day or many times a week, could well be the most dangerous crossing that exists for you. Because you cross these tracks so many times without seeing a train you can be lulled into carelessness. As sure as you are, tragedy will strike. You are 30 times more likely to die if struck by a train than a collision with any other vehicle. We must remind ourselves to expect a train every time we cross railroad tracks. Any time is train time!!

Another important message that we should be reminded of from this tragedy is never stop on the tracks. Always be sure that there is enough room to clear the tracks by at least fifteen feet beyond the rear of your car from the last rail. If in question, stop before the tracks.

If you are ever in the unfortunate situation of being trapped on the crossing and you see a train coming, abandon your vehicle immediately and run in the direction the train is coming in case objects fly out upon impact. Vehicles can be replaced -- human life cannot. Though it is extremely important that our school bus drivers be well trained and stay alert when hauling the precious cargo of our children, we should expect no less from ourselves. Remember -- when approaching a highway-rail grade crossing --


Jane H. Mosley
State Coordinator
N.C. Operation Lifesaver, Inc.

North Carolina Operation Lifesaver is an active, continuous public information and education program to help prevent and reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities and improve driver performance at the nation's 300,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings. Contact: Jane H. Mosley, State Coordinator, North Carolina Operation Lifesaver, Inc., 919-831-3006, 919-831-3019 or FAX 919-831-3017

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Created November 6, 1996. Send comments to lblanchard@aol.com