Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

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Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Tadman » Wed May 18, 2016 8:49 pm

There's been a lot of chatter about the 188 incident recently. I, too, mourn the loss of 8 people and the uncertainty caused by this accident. But let me tell a far more troubling story.

Tonight I'm on 58 NOL-CHI. We just hit a truck. It was an unbelievably quick incident. All at once, a tire flew past my window, a giant cloud of dirt kicked up, and we went into emergency. Three people are dead, two children. This is the most messed up thing I've seen in a long time. A woman, perhaps the widow, is crying her eyes out on the side of the road.

But you won't see Chuck Schumer or any other a-holes like him banging their metaphorical shoe on the lectern about grade crossing safety. Nobody will shed a tear for those kids outside rural Mississippi. There certainly won't be a $15b PTC mandate, let alone new laws trying to curb this frequent tragedy. 244 people died in 2015. That's about 2 188-style incidents per month.

Why don't they do something about this? Tickets for crossing violations are rarely written and not a serious offense, but you'r risking others' lives just like drunk driving. If the politicians really cared, they'd solve this problem tomorrow.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby electricron » Wed May 18, 2016 9:07 pm

I understand your concern. Grade crossing accidents and trespassing kill hundreds every year. As I recall, back in the 1970s, every railroad grade crossing in Mississippi had a stop sign, even at the crossings with signal lights. Every vehicle had to come to a complete stop, look both ways, before proceeding across the tracks. I'm not sure if that law in Mississippi still exists today?
Since that time, I've seen more and more crossing signals installed so vehicular traffic doesn't have to stop, look, and listen. Drivers drove past active signals frequently, so gates were also installed. Drivers now drive around the gates. Cities, counties, and states invest hundreds of thousands of dollars installing and maintain and maintaining EACH of these crossing signals and gates.

It's not the railroad's fault so many drivers ignore crossing signals and gates.

I also strongly disagree that local, state, and national politicans have done nothing all these years. They have been investing lots of cash installing these crossing signals and gates so many of us ignore.

Maybe we should go back in time and use ancient technologies, and place back humans at the crossings. When British Rail first installed electric signals and gates at their crossing replacing gate keepers and manually operated gates, there was a significant increase in accidents. Maybe, just maybe, more drivers follow instructions from humans than they do machines?
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Backshophoss » Wed May 18, 2016 10:00 pm

This seems to be something that is passed thru quickly in driver's Ed class in high school or a driving school(for driving cars). :(
Seems the best way to stop the cars is to go the 4 gate/divided lanes done at Quiet Crossings.
The other day I had stopped at a crossing as the lights started up and the gates dropped at Los Chavez,the idiot behind
passed me and ran the gates,barely missed the BNSF Freight headed to Belen running at 40 mph, could have spent
that afternoon as a witness to the Darwin act of dumbness.
After the freight cleared,NMSP was dealing with the idiot with cuffs :-) !
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby atsf sp » Wed May 18, 2016 11:23 pm

Were you on the head end or a passenger?
"Why would you take a train to go see another train?"
Some people just don't understand.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Watchman318 » Thu May 19, 2016 12:10 am

Backshophoss wrote:The other day I had stopped at a crossing as the lights started up and the gates dropped at Los Chavez,the idiot behind
passed me and ran the gates,barely missed the BNSF Freight headed to Belen running at 40 mph, could have spent
that afternoon as a witness to the Darwin act of dumbness.
After the freight cleared,NMSP was dealing with the idiot with cuffs :-) !
Good.I don't know if a crossing violation is an arrestable offense in any state, but he might have been operating without a license, or after suspension. Maybe they whacked him for driving to endanger; I'd be tempted to add that in there if I was writing the summons. I know of one eejit motorist who got hit on our local line (2010, I think), and she was under suspension. People like that tend not to be the brightest bulbs on the tree. Sometimes they get away with it for years, but sometimes they manage to draw attention to themselves in unpleasant ways.

Some years back, I think it was NS and North Carolina DOT that did a study about quad gates, or center barriers, or cameras at various crossings. While all the technology helped, they still could only get about 98% compliance from "highway users." I don't know if that included bicyclists and pedestrians, but I've seen some of them doing some pretty dumb stuff at crossings, too.

Operation Lifesaver's "Three E's" are Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. For that small percentage of road users who didn't get the Education (or have forgotten it), and who seem to find the Engineering (gates, etc.) to be an inconvenience rather than something that could save their lives, there's Enforcement. But as mentioned, the nitwits don't seem to get caught and prosecuted often enough. (And a lot of the time, the Law of Averages or something keeps them from getting hit, too. "God looks out for fools, drunkards, and small children" maybe?)

Speaking of politicians, I just found out that in 2015, Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Esty of CT introduced bills (S. 532 and H.R. 1291 respectively) for the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015. The last action on S. 532 seems to have been 02/23/15, when it was "Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation." The House bill doesn't seem to have gone anywhere, either, since this page says it had about a "1% chance of being enacted."

Operation Lifesaver can always use more volunteers for the Education part. http://oli.org/training
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Backshophoss » Thu May 19, 2016 12:44 am

In a car waiting for the freight to pass,this is NMRX single track where this stunt happened,
the north road to Mid Valley Air Park. A road you don't bring a lowboy semi trailer to.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby MACTRAXX » Thu May 19, 2016 6:51 am

Tad and Everyone:

Yes-Grade Crossings are a problem and always unfortunately will be as long as there are unpatient or clueless people not willing to wait until a train passes.
Unless we commit to spending billions of dollars to eliminate them all they will be there. I am all for education programs like Operation Lifesaver.

This topic needs more exposure then just the Amtrak Forum - would a general discussion section be better? We all have our strong opinions on grade crossing
safety because over time there have been far too many tragedies and for the most part needless loss of lives and injuries. Even those not physically hurt - such
as train crew members - can be emotionally and mentally scarred for life in the aftermath of one of these incidents. This is a serious subject for us all.

MACTRAXX
EXPRESS TRAIN TO NEW YORK PENN STATION-NO JAMAICA ON THIS TRAIN-PLEASE STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING TRAIN DOORS
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Jeff Smith » Thu May 19, 2016 9:47 am

I've seen news accounts; it was indeed a father and two daughters. The circumstances of the car getting hit have not been elaborated on, and details have not been offered (gates, lights, etc.) but they did mention he had just picked them up from daycare. So the woman crying was likely the mother. We've been talking about situational awareness in the 188 thread; it certainly goes for crossings. The children and father were apparently properly situated in the car, i.e. child seats and safety belts.

This humanizes these accidents for us, doesn't it? I have to admit I've been less than sensitive (my Darwin thread comes to mind, which I'm going to delete, and the MNRR Valhalla incident). So whether or not there was intent to go around gates or not, these are people with families. A mother has lost her husband, and her children whatever the circumstance.

And lest we forget, the crew of the train and first responders who dealt with this. Tad, sorry you had to witness this. I'm sure it was traumatic.

Railroads have been around for two centuries now, and for two centuries, there have been accidents. All we can do is educate and protect where we can.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Arborwayfan » Thu May 19, 2016 10:37 am

Here in Indiana we do here about grade crossing accidents, usually with a news-source bias against the railroad. And even though the railroads were there long before most of the streets, and even though most accidents may be caused by people intentionally trying to beat a train, I think there are some things the railroads should do (voluntarily if they have sense, else by law):

1. Do more to eliminate times when the gates are down and there's clearly no train coming, either because of a signal malfunction or because a train is stopped a couple car lengths down the track. It happens all the time here in Terre Haute: a train on the north-south CSX line (fmr C&EI) will stop in the little yard (Baker, I think) with it's last car not quite blocking a street (often Hulman St, sometimes Washington or College Ave.). The gates stay down, at least for a while. People see the back of the train and figure it's safe to cut across. On Hulman St. there are two tracks, so they are taking a bigger risk that they should understand; on the other streets there's just one track, so the risk is less and harder for them to see. These situations encourage people to have contempt for the signals and get in the habit of running them. There's got to be an operational or IT way to reduce these situations.

2. Try to reduce the time trains block any given crossing. People are expecting to be held up for a long time, especially at certain crossings. Cities and towns have a role here, too: I'd love to see a study of whether letting/helping railroads run trains through cities faster could reduce the number of grade crossing accidents by making people less desperate when they see a train coming. It seems like a common first public reaction is to say the trains are running too fast; it's one thing to say that passengers trains at 90 mph are dangerous at a given grade crossing, when slowing them down won't make any real difference in how long people in cars have to wait, and another thing to say that freights should run through town at 20 instead of 40, adding several minutes to the time they are there. Some good studies would be worthwhile -- and then tell city officials and news outlets what the results are and what the best practices are.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Tadman » Thu May 19, 2016 12:10 pm

To clarify a few questions, I was (still am) a passenger. There were evidently lights but no gates at the crossing. That said, it was a downtown crossing where it appears one would have to slowly approach the crossing and could see the train as it approaches.

The engineer asked for a relief engineer to take over. He was pretty shook up.

I don't see the difference between drunk driving and crossing violations. We make a big fuss out of drunk driving (rightfully so) but last night a man's carelessness mean he killed his two daughters. It's just sick.

What's even sicker is that we could solve this problem in a self-funding way yet we ignore it (I.E. Write a lot of tickets for big money) but we have PTC for $15b that won't, in the next twenty years, stop fatalities to the magnitude of one year of grade crossing fatalities.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Ryand-Smith » Thu May 19, 2016 1:25 pm

Tadman wrote:There's been a lot of chatter about the 188 incident recently. I, too, mourn the loss of 8 people and the uncertainty caused by this accident. But let me tell a far more troubling story.

Tonight I'm on 58 NOL-CHI. We just hit a truck. It was an unbelievably quick incident. All at once, a tire flew past my window, a giant cloud of dirt kicked up, and we went into emergency. Three people are dead, two children. This is the most messed up thing I've seen in a long time. A woman, perhaps the widow, is crying her eyes out on the side of the road.

But you won't see Chuck Schumer or any other a-holes like him banging their metaphorical shoe on the lectern about grade crossing safety. Nobody will shed a tear for those kids outside rural Mississippi. There certainly won't be a $15b PTC mandate, let alone new laws trying to curb this frequent tragedy. 244 people died in 2015. That's about 2 188-style incidents per month.

Why don't they do something about this? Tickets for crossing violations are rarely written and not a serious offense, but you'r risking others' lives just like drunk driving. If the politicians really cared, they'd solve this problem tomorrow.



Honestly this is one of the few things that does bother me. In my area we had a truck (yes they tried to bypass gates, but still), the fact that there are still gates on the Acella is something shameful. Gates should only exist for slow speed rare lines and rural crossings the fact that we still have grade crossings die major incidents is shameful.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Jehochman » Thu May 19, 2016 1:28 pm

Self driving cars will have excellent compliance with crossing signals. The risk will be cut to that of signal failure.

Acela crossings are in a few small coastal neighborhoods where there's no room for a bridge and where a tunnel would get very very wet.
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby Nasadowsk » Thu May 19, 2016 1:53 pm

Of course, with PTC in place, it's all that much easier to design a system that sits at the grade crossing and drops signals if there's an incursion.

Actually, the technology to do so is so off the shelf and out there, it's pretty sad the industry hasn't gone in that direction already, but apparently grade crossing accidents are just a cost of doing business, even when they incinerate a few of your customers (after all, what's another 10 million to the taxpayers, right?)

I can think of a few implementation routes:

* Vision systems - 2d, 3d, IR, maybe UV.
* Radar of various types.
* Lasers of various types.
* Pressure sensors.
* Magnetic sensors.

Or we can beat the Operation Lifesaver drum because that's been such a smashing success...
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby ExCon90 » Thu May 19, 2016 2:47 pm

The problem with any form of incursion detection is the time and distance required to stop a train moving at a commercial speed (i.e., ~40-50 for freight, ~80-110 for passenger); an incursion within that time and distance will not prevent a collision. In the common circumstance of somebody ducking around a gate and immediately getting creamed by a train he didn't see, incursion won't be able to do a thing. For many years in Britain and Germany, and no doubt in other countries, the gates were interlocked with the nearest home signals in both directions; both home signals (and thus also the distants) couldn't be cleared until the gates were closed to vehicular traffic. You can calculate how long the gates are down, with absolutely nothing happening, until a train blows by at speed. And it works, but the patience of American motorists doesn't extend that far. (I observed this over a period of time on the DB freight line at Ruedesheim on the east bank of the Rhine, and it was 2 minutes or more from the time the gates went down until the passage of the train; it was merely a side road leading from the main highway down to the river, so not much auto traffic was affected.)
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Re: Grade Crossings - the real tragedy in railroading

Postby JimBoylan » Thu May 19, 2016 3:57 pm

Is there to be any outcry about the lack of effective crash walls and roofs around railroad tracks, to prevent collisions with the middle of trains from meteorites, flash floods, etc.?
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