Railroad Crossing Safety

The average freight train traveling at 55 mph takes a mile or more to stop - that's about the length of 18 football fields. So when a vehicle gets stuck on the tracks and a train is coming, the outcome is usually very bad for the vehicle and often worse for its passengers.

In light of the hazards associated with railroad crossings and trains, Operation Lifesaver Inc (OLI) and USRider have teamed up to develop an informative brochure with tips for safely approaching and crossing railroad tracks. The Railroad Crossing Tips for Equestrians brochure is available for download on both the Operation Lifesaver Inc website, www.oli.org, and the USRider website, www.usrider.org.

The initiative stems from an accident study that USRider conducted with Dr. Tomas Gimenez, professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Clemson University, and Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, an animal physiologist and a primary instructor in technical large-animal emergency rescue. These two experts in large-animal emergency rescue have been assisting USRider in gathering and analyzing data about horse trailer accidents. The data has been used to formulate recommendations for preventing accidents and enhancing the safety of horses.

From studying hundreds of incidents involving horse trailers, the researchers found that when a tow vehicle and horse trailer are involved in a collision with a train, the tow vehicles and trailers don't fare so well. In a review of over 400 horse trailer accidents, the accidents involving trains had a very high likelihood of a human or equine fatality.

The Railroad Crossing Tips for Equestrians brochure has some excellent safety tips, both obvious and little known.

For example, one tip is not to assume that a track is no longer in use. Rather, always expect a train. Trains can run on any track, at any time, in either direction.

Since it takes a mile or more for a train to stop, another important safety tip to remember is, if you see a train, stay put until the train passes. It is very difficult to judge a train's speed and proximity, it may be closer and traveling faster than it appears. And with a heavy, lengthy trailer, it would be foolhardy to pull in front of a train and risk a collision. It may take longer for your truck and trailer to clear the tracks than you think.

So if the driver sees a train, they should stay put until the train passes.

It's important to know that trains overhang the track by three feet on both sides. For safety, leave at least 15 feet between your trailer and the nearest rail when you cross tracks.

USRider reminds horse owners that if you must cross railroad tracks, proceed cautiously, especially when the tracks are higher than the road grade. If your horse trailer becomes lodged on a railroad crossing, call the emergency notification number posted on or near the crossing, or call 911 or local law enforcement. Look for a US DOT number, six digits plus a letter to identify the crossing.

Additionally, all humans and animals should be evacuated from the tow vehicle and trailer. Evacuating the horses from the trailer serves two purposes. Obviously, it removes them from harm's way. In addition, evacuating the horses will reduce the weight in the trailer, which could raise the trailer enough to dislodge it from the tracks and enable it to complete the crossing safely.

Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit, international continuing public education program first established in 1972 to end collisions, deaths and injuries at places where roadways cross train tracks, and on railroad rights-of-way. For more information, visit www.oli.org or call 1-800-537-6224.