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Staged Train Crash Emphasizes Rail Crossing Safety

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STAR – The N.C. Department of Transportation has a safety message for motorists: Never try to outrun a train at a railroad crossing.

To illustrate its point, the agency today staged and videotaped a simulation showing a remote-controlled car trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing in Montgomery County. The car, fitted with crash dummies, did not get over the crossing before the train smashed into it.

“All the injuries and deaths we see at railroad crossings are preventable if motorists would respect the railroad crossing,” said Roger Smock, who coordinates NCDOT’s BeRailSafe program and helped organize Wednesday’s simulation. “It’s our hope, that by showing the impact that occurs when a vehicle attempts to race a locomotive to a crossing, drivers will think twice when approaching railroad tracks. Trains cannot stop quickly, and for this reason they have the right-of-way over all highway traffic, including emergency vehicles.”

So far this year, there have been 21 crossing crashes – of those, five were fatal and six caused injuries. In 2017, there were 48 crashes at railroad crossings, resulting in nine fatalities and 17 injuries.

Wednesday’s simulation better illustrates some sobering lessons about why motorists should never try to outrun a train. People may not realize, for instance, it takes a train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile to stop and trains always have the right-of-way, even when emergency vehicles are involved. Additional safety tips are available here.

NCDOT hopes Wednesday’s simulation – the first of its kind in North Carolina – will educate motorists and reduce the number of fatal collisions at railroad crossings.

To help with analyzing data from the crash, officials installed in the car additional onboard crash sensors that produced data which the Institute for Transportation Research and Education and the NCDOT can use to evaluate and improve safety.

Also, the dummies and child restraint seats were installed inside the car along with cameras to record the effects of proper and improper child seat installations and adult restraints. NCDOT Research and Development officials funded part of the project and hope to share what they learned from the simulation with highway safety partners across the nation.

The simulation was conducted by NCDOT’s BeRailSafe program in partnership with North Carolina Operation Lifesaver, and the Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway to educate motorists about respect for railroad crossings while reminding them about one rule: See Tracks? Think Train!