Trains fascinate people of all ages. Unfortunately, the familiarity and the desire to short cut across the tracks rather than use a public crossing can lead children to walk or play on or near railroad tracks, risking serious injuries or even death.
Tragically, during the past 10 years, more than 844 children younger than the age of 16 were killed and nearly 2,864 youth were injured at railroad crossings and on tracks.
The primary danger to youngsters and older youth is the fact that the railroad environment is far more dangerous than it looks. The public does not belong on railroad property; it is dangerous and illegal for children to walk along railroad tracks or yards or to cross anywhere other than at an established public crossing.
Another contributing factor is the youth's belief that they will hear an oncoming train long before it gets to them . This is wrong.
Many modern locomotives run quietly, particularly downhill, and can easily arrive with almost no audible warning until it is too late.
Children also falsely assume that an oncoming train will be able to stop in time to avoid hitting them, just like cars do. Unless they have been taught about the associated dangers, youth cannot imagine that a 150-car freight or passenger train traveling at 50 miles per hour or faster needs at least a mile and a half to come to a complete stop. Children need to understand that a train cannot steer to avoid an accident - youth must avoid the train by staying off the tracks.
Railroad crossings pose a serious danger, even when safeguards are in place. Nearly half of all collisions at highway-rail crossings occur where automatic warning devices such as flashing lights or flashing lights with gates are present and are functioning properly. Far too often, pedestrians or motorists ignore the warnings in an attempt to beat the train. Tragically, collisions between a motor vehicle and a train are 30 times more likely to be fatal than a collision with another car, bus or truck.
Finally, it is important to remember that railroad tracks, trestles, bridges, yards and equipment are private property. Trespassers are subject to arrest, criminal prosecution and fines. They also risk serious injury. With improved safety education, things can get better.
In the last five years, highway-rail crossing casualties in the under 16 age group have declined by about 40 percent and trespass casualties have decreased by 30 percent.
Lessons learned during the formative years can make a lasting impression and can save a child's life. Safety officials have developed the following steps to help children become aware of the dangers surrounding trains and inform adults about how injuries can be prevented.
Parents should teach children at an early age that trains are dangerous. Adults should make sure youngsters understand that it is never safe to play on or near railroad tracks.
Adults should teach children that it is illegal and unsafe to trespass on railroad property. Remind the child that the only safe place to cross railroad tracks is at an established public crossing.
Children should be taught to recognize the warning devices that can be found at public grade crossings.
The devices include flashing lights, ringing bells and gates.
Adults should teach children how the devices work and what they mean.
Parents should make sure children understand that it is important to obey all warning signals at railroad crossings.
Show them how to walk across the tracks safely at a public grade crossing, but stress that they must never shortcut across the tracks, even if it looks like there are no trains coming.
When the child is old enough to understand, adults should explain that railroad tracks and equipment are private property and that trespassing could get the youth arrested or injured, possibly both.
Besides education, adults and children must both practice safety precautions when coming in contact with railroad tracks.
Simple safety precautions will save lives.
When walking or bicycling, youth and adults should stop well away from the tracks.
Observe any grade crossing warning devices that are present, such as flashing red lights, bells, or gates, and determine whether or not they have been activated to indicate the approach of a train.
If the warning devices are not on, still look in both directions for an approaching train before crossing the tracks.
Listen for the sound or whistle of an approaching train.
If a train is coming, wait until it passes before crossing the tracks.
Watch for more than one train.
People may not notice a second train coming from the opposite direction on an adjacent track or approaching behind the first train, but in the same direction, on an adjacent track because of the noise from the first train.
Once people are sure it is safe, they should cross the tracks without delay.
Use the smooth grade crossing surface and watch where you step, so you do not stumble or fall.
These sound like lengthy steps, but in reality they do not take long to perform.
Taking the time to perform simple safety precautions will save lives.
Adults should practice these steps as well as children, after all children learn by example.
The Federal Railroad Administration has developed a variety of publications that can be used to teach children and young adults about railroad safety. Carbon County residents may visit the FRA website at www.fra.dot.gov or call (202)493-6024. If visiting the website, be sure to click on the learning depot webpage for more information in educating children about railroad safety.