Railroads strive for fewer crossings collisions
- Railroads strive for fewer crossings collisions
Mon Apr 10, 2006 9:08 AM ET
By Nick Carey
OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - Earlier this month, two men were killed
when their truck was hit by a New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway
(NYSW) train at a crossing in Oakland, New Jersey.
Authorities are still investigating what happened, but official
accident investigation reports say the lights were working and other
vehicles were stopped at the crossing. For unknown reasons, the truck
driver didn't stop.
Incidents like this are becoming less common, U.S. railroads say, but
they are still seeking ways to keep the public -- the main cause of
accidents -- off the rails.
In 2005, there were 3,010 crossing accidents, causing 355 deaths, down
from 12,126 collisions and 917 deaths in 1975, the FRA said. The
United States has 240,000 rail crossings.
Railroads cite safety statistics to Wall Street to show how well run they are.
"It's not the first thing investors look at, but safety plays a role,"
said Stephen Brown, an analyst at rating agency Fitch Ratings. "Few
accidents indicate an efficient railroad."
Railway crossing accidents "remain far too high," said U.S. rail
regulator Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) spokesman Warren
The FRA says highway-rail collisions caused more than 90 percent of
rail fatalities in 2005, "upward of 90 percent" of them caused by the
people disobeying or ignoring the rules, Flatau said, "often trying to
race trains to crossings."
To keep the public away, the railroads say they are physically
separating rail from road.
Fred Williams, general manager Midwest division for Kansas City
Southern <KSU.N> said "wherever possible, we are looking at ways to
move the rails either under or above roads to reduce our points of
But underpasses and overpasses cost up to $2 million each, making it
"pretty much impossible to remove all crossings," said Mark Schulze,
vice president for safety at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.
<BNI.N>, the second largest U.S. railroad. BNSF has closed 3,000
crossings since 2000, but has more than 30,000 others on its network.
Lance Fritz, a Union Pacific regional vice president, said accidents
at rail crossings "block the network," delaying deliveries to
U.S. imports have seen annual double-digit growth since 2003,
stretching capacity at railroads, which have not suffered as much as
trucking companies from high fuel costs.
"Anything that causes congestion is bad news," Fritz said.
Cameras help railroads investigate causes of congestion, plus whether
a train driver, motorist or faulty equipment are responsible for
UP has installed them on 921 locomotives at a cost of $6,500 each and
2,500 locomotives may eventually get them. Norfolk Southern Corp.
<NSC.N> has cameras on 1,300 locomotives with a target of 2,500. BNSF
has 250 cameras and may add 500 in 2006.
Collectively, these three railroads plus CSX Corp. <CSX.N> plan to
spend 17 percent more in 2006 than last year on their networks,
including safety programs.
Chuck Wehrmeister, Norfolk Southern vice president for safety, said
cameras have "helped protect against false claims" from motorists that
the railroad caused accidents involving their vehicles.
The railroads say their primary concern is people and are reluctant to
discuss how accidents hit the bottom line. Analysts say a series of
rail disasters on any one network would harm a company's reputation
and its valuation.
"It is not an issue now because the railroads have a good safety
record," Fitch's Brown said. "If it worsened significantly the
railroads would suffer."
Standard & Poor's analyst Andrew West said U.S. railroads must also
focus on safety to avoid political attention.
"If a railroad has too many accidents making the headlines,
politicians could use that for political gain," West said.
"If safety becomes a political issue, new regulations are unlikely to
follow market principles," he added.
Bob Grimaila, vice president for safety at Union Pacific Corp.
<UNP.N>, shows a 30-second, black-and-white film -- from a locomotive
in Missouri in January, of straight rails in flat woodland. A truck
appears on the right, speeding toward a rail crossing marked with the
X-shaped "crossbucks" sign common in rural areas. The truck ignores
U.S. highway regulations that say trains have the right of way.
Train brakes take several seconds to react, and moving at around 50
miles an hour the train would need a mile to stop.
The train and truck just miss. A few inches closer and the train would
have struck the truck.
"We call that a near-hit," Grimaila said.
- Two of my friends at work were involved with that accident. I just put
that train together the day before and handed it off to the road crew
the night before. People in the area were saying there should be gates
at that crossing and probably would have prevented it. I say bull!
There are lights and bells there. Its just simply that drivers use
misjudgement . That truck that was struck went around another truck and
a school bus that was stopped there. The passenger in the truck was
20yrs old and his first day on his new job. Gee,maybe they should put
gates at intersections so automobiles wont go thru the stop lights! Mark
- Of course they'll say the only tragedy is the dead
people in the truck. Nothing will be said about the
two guys working in the locomotive!!! Maybe THEY
should sue the deceased's family for mental anguish?
--- choochoo1802@... wrote:
> Two of my friends at work were involved with that__________________________________________________
> accident. I just put
> that train together the day before and handed it off
> to the road crew
> the night before. People in the area were saying
> there should be gates
> at that crossing and probably would have prevented
> it. I say bull!
> There are lights and bells there. Its just simply
> that drivers use
> misjudgement . That truck that was struck went
> around another truck and
> a school bus that was stopped there. The passenger
> in the truck was
> 20yrs old and his first day on his new job.
> Gee,maybe they should put
> gates at intersections so automobiles wont go thru
> the stop lights! Mark
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