Railroad Crossing Accidents: the High Risk of a Fatal Train Crash in Indiana and Illinois


Railroad Crossing Accidents: the High Risk of a Fatal Train Crash in Indiana and Illinois

According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, if freight is being moved by train anywhere along the eastern seaboard to Chicago, it is going to pass through Northwest Indiana.

That’s a lot of cargo.  And it demonstrates how much railroad traffic we have here in our part of the country.  We’ve got more highway railroad crossings than almost any other state in the union (only 4 states have more than Indiana).

This means Hoosiers are at high risk for serious or fatal train crashes.  Accidents between motor vehicles and trains, moving at any speed, are often fatal crashes killing the occupants of the car, truck, SUV, or minivan. 

Illinois may be even more dangerous for train accidents.  The State of Illinois ranks second in the nation for the number of fatal railroad crossing deaths.

State and Federal Campaigns to Prevent Railroad Crossing Accidents

Government agencies overseeing railway transportation at both the state and federal level are well aware of the dangers of fatal train crashes in this country.

State and federal efforts are underway to educate drivers about how serious the threat of a fatal train crash really is for those entering railroad crossings here in Indiana and Illinois.

Federal Campaign: Stop, Trains Can’t

As we discussed in our last post, the federal government is targeting Indiana, Illinois, and several other high risk states in its new 2017 public awareness campaign.

With the slogan “Stop! Trains Can’t,” the Federal Railroad Association and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Association are blitzing the media with information on the dangers of railroad crossing accidents.  It’s a serious message.  They are spending $7 Million in this fight to reduce the number of train crashes in the high-risk states.

State Campaigns in Indiana and Illinois:  Midwest Rail Safety Week

This comes just months after Indiana and Illinois hosted their state-wide “Midwest Rail Safety Week” campaigns back in September.   The goal here was the same:  to try and save lives from being tragically ended in a railroad crossing accident and train crash.

For more on state efforts, see our earlier post, “Fatal Railroad Accidents: Indiana and Illinois Both Rank in Top 5 for Number of Train Crash Deaths.”

Railroad Crossings:  Did You Know?

If you drive anywhere in Indiana or Illinois, you are going to encounter railroad crossings in your path.  There are simply too many rails moving through our area for drivers to avoid having to cross at least one set of train tracks.

From your route between home and work, or home and school, you may deal with several railroad crossings, both public and private; both active and passive.  However, you may not be aware of the dangers you face each day as you drive across those train tracks.

Consider the following:

  1. There’s no set schedule for train traffic. Trains do not have schedules and estimated times of arrival (ETAs) like planes do.
  1. Tracks are not one-way. Train tracks do not run just one way.  The tracks work if the train is running in either direction.
  1. Someone on the train is responsible for watching for problems down the track. Inside a moving train, a “locomotive engineer” has the job of watching up ahead on the tracks for any obstacles or problems.
  1. Each train comes equipped with a warning siren. If the locomotive engineer discovers a problem, he will sound a warning horn.  These are very, very loud.
  1. Trains have emergency brakes. Emergency brakes on a train do exist.  There are brakes on every single train wheel.
  1. Emergency brakes on a train can’t stop a collision at a railroad crossing. It is highly unlikely that emergency brakes on a train will prevent a train crash.  This is because the brakes cannot stop the train fast.   The Indiana Department of Transportation has an example:  if a freight train of average length (100 cars) carrying an average cargo weight (12-20M pounds) has its emergency brakes hit by the engineer, it will continue to move forward over 1 mile of train tracks before coming to a stop.
  1. Trains are huge and their size creates an optical illusion for drivers. Most locomotives are monsters: they average 17 feet in height and 10 feet in width.  Because they are so big, they don’t appear to moving that fast on the train tracks.  It’s a visual illusion.
  1. Tracks run parallel and create another optical illusion for drivers. Another optical illusion with trains involves the parallel train tracks.  Looking down at the parallel tracks and comparing them internally against the horizon, the human brain may assume that the train is pretty far away.  That’s usually not true.  The calculated distance will be an illusion; the train will be much closer than the eye and brain can judge accurately.
  1. Crossings are not built the same way. Not all railroad crossings are built the same.  Some crossings have surfaces that are made with different materials than the roadway.  The railroad crossing may be higher than the road.
  1. There can be more than one train in succession coming through the crossing. After one freight train passes, it does not mean that the crossing is safe.   Another train may be rumbling along behind it, at the same rate of speed.

Justice for Victims of Railroad Crossing Accidents in Indiana or Illinois

Railroad tracks are not owned by the government.  Train tracks are private property.

There is a private company that owns and operates that train track, as well as its nearby service roads, and rights of way.  It may or may not own the railroad crossing.

Anyone walking alongside the train may be considered a trespasser on private property.  Anyone who is hit by a train while driving across train tracks in a railroad crossing accident may have a claim to file against the railroad companies as owners and operators.  These are not lawsuits filed against the State of Indiana or the federal government.

Private railroad companies who own the tracks and/or operate the trains may be liable to the accident victim and his family for the damages caused in the train crash.  Others may also be liable; these cases may have several defendants who share responsibility for what has happened. 

Personal injury laws for Indiana and Illinois will apply here.  These can be those involving negligence, product liability, or wrongful death, for instance.

Public awareness campaigns are working to educate drivers on the high risk of a train crash here in Indiana and Illinois.  Let’s be careful out there!

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