Rail trespassing is one of the top safety issues for transit organizations across the country. SEPTA reminds the Greater Philadelphia Region that respecting the train is not just for pedestrians – rail safety is important for motorists driving near tracks, too.
“We’ve seen the images of grade crossing accidents across the country,” said SEPTA Assistant General Manager of System Safety Scott Sauer. “Drivers think they can beat the gates and attempt to cross the tracks in the path of oncoming trains. Trains can’t swerve to avoid a person or object in their path.”
According to the National Safety Council, nighttime is the most dangerous driving time, due to factors such as compromised vision and being tired. With the end of daylight savings time, more motorists are finding themselves on the road after dark, driving in conditions they might not be accustomed to. “Because it is darker when most commuters are on the roads now, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings, especially railroad crossings and train tracks,” said Sauer.
In recent weeks, SEPTA crews have responded to several cases involving cars stuck on railroad tracks or grade crossing gates not functioning properly because they had been hit by motorists. “These incidents resulted in delays for our passengers, as we waited for cars to be cleared from the right-of-way or for conductors to walk trains through areas where crossing gates were not functioning,” Sauer said.
There are precautions motorists should take when driving near train tracks and through grade crossings. The closing gates, warning bells and flashing lights indicate that the train is approaching and has the right of way. Drivers that pass through flashers or crossing gates are in violation of motor vehicle laws and are subject to heavy fines. Road markers indicate the safest distance for vehicles to stop from the grade crossing when the gates are down. “Never travel into a crossing until the flashing lights go out completely,” said Sauer. “There may be a second train coming from the opposite direction that will re-activate the gates.”
Sauer also warns motorists not to drive onto the tracks at a grade crossing unless they have ample space to pull ahead. “The crossing gates could come down with your car on the tracks and no room to drive forward or reverse back.”
When traveling near train tracks, whether on foot or by motor vehicle, SEPTA reminds the public that trains can come in any direction at any time. “You can never assume that trains don’t run on certain stretches of track. And, just because there is a station next to a crossing, doesn’t mean that a train is going to stop,” said Sauer. SEPTA offers rail safety tips and videos on its website. The Authority’s System Safety Division makes Operation Lifesaver rail safety presentations to students from kindergarten through high school and to a wide variety of audiences such as hearing and visually impaired adults, driver’s education students, emergency responders and professional drivers. SEPTA offers the presentations -which are aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian and driver injuries and fatalities around railroad tracks by highlighting risky behaviors – free of charge to school and community groups.
For more information about SEPTA safety and to download PDFs of safety tips for all SEPTA modes, click here. For information about SEPTA’s Operation Lifesaver presentations, and to schedule a presentation, call 215-580-7800. For more information about Operation Lifesaver, click here.