On June 24, 2011, an Amtrak passenger train bound for California from Chicago was broadsided by a tractor-trailer truck on a rural highway near Miriam, Nevada, killing the truck driver and five people on the train. This accident presents an opportunity to remind everyone just how important it is to be vigilant about grade-crossing safety.
With more than 219,000 grade crossings in the U.S., accidents occur every day. In fact, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that advocates for rail safety education, there is a grade crossing accident that either involves a vehicle or a pedestrian about eight times a day, every day. In 2011, there were 265 highway grade crossing deaths in the U.S., yet every one of these deaths was avoidable.
The good news is that over the past 30 years, the frequency of grade crossing accidents has been on the decline. This was accomplished through improved safety warning systems — such as safety gates, warning lights, and loud horns — and a lot of education. This fall, we will complete our investigation into the Miriam accident, and I hope that we will identify opportunities to make our highway-rail grade crossings even safer.
So remember to heed both active and passive warning systems and for drivers tempted to beat a train across the tracks, Operation Lifesaver offers a warning: “Never race a train to the crossing—even if you tie, you lose.”