Railroad crossing, look out for the cars

This video aired on our local news today and I found it very unnerving. Not because it’s the second Ohio derailment in the last month — although it convinces me never to ride a train through Ohio — but because the car, stopped well short of the crossing, still had to back away.

You see, I have a thing about trains, and it’s not a good thing. I’m pretty sure it dates back to my early childhood in the ’40s when my parents did their traveling on trains. I distinctly remember walking along the platforms next to the tracks. Giant train cars loomed overhead. Blasts of steam erupted loudly and unexpectedly from their undercarriages. Huge wheels were just feet away, on the same level as the platforms. It was very noisey with passengers hurrying about, redcaps maneuvering big carts full of luggage, trains chugging by on nearby tracks, sounding their whistles, conductors hollering “boooard!” It was scary!

The luggage carts I remember looked something like this. The metal wheels made a lot of noise on concrete, especially if the cart was empty.

Then there was the incident in Norman, Oklahoma, when I lived there. The huz and I were in the car one night, driving along Main Street, which crossed the tracks right next to the train station. Just as we started across the tracks, a train, standing at the station but hidden from view until that moment, blasted its whistle. I turned and saw nothing but its headlight looming high above us. In that instant I knew I was dead.

Now comes this video of what can happen while you’re stopped at a railroad crossing. And it drives home a thought I always have when I stop at a rail crossing — don’t stop too close to the tracks. Leave as much room between you and the tracks as you’d want if the passing trail derails or tips over. Probably irrational but I can’t help it. Cars will probably stop behind me and I won’t be able to back up as the driver in the video did (lucky driver). I don’t care what other drivers think; if I’m first in line at a crossing, I will stop well back and will be nervous until the train has passed.

I know, I’m probably being silly. But I can’t help it. And at my age I’m not likely to change.

24 thoughts on “Railroad crossing, look out for the cars

  1. I used to live near a train track for the city’s light rail system and was always surprised by the number of people who had no regard for the trains or tracks. I was surprised how many people were killed by the trains in our area (most due to not paying attention and stepping in front of a moving train).

    1. I grew up less than a mile from some tracks. I don’t recall ever hearing of any accidents with either pedestrians or cars — but that was a very long time ago.

  2. Oh those miles-long mixed freight trains ! – they maketh the driving populace mad, do they not ? I am amazed, personally, that the car driver was watching sufficiently closely to be able to reverse so quickly (although you do say that this was the 2nd Ohio derailment in a month ..) Most drivers here kind of switch off in sheer boredom while these endless things pass.

    1. I, too, noticed how quickly the driver reversed at the first sign of trouble. Luckily there seemed to be no cars behind him/her. I’ve waited for some pretty long trains in my day. The ones I really hate are the ones that slow and finally stop just before they’ve cleared the crossing and after you’ve already waited for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes for them to pass.

  3. Count me as scared, as well. Tragically, a coworker’s daughter and friends mooned a freight train as a silly college prank some years back. Two friends survived with injuries, his daughter sadly did not. What a waste.

  4. I agree – no words. A senseless horrific tragedy – for the victims, their friends and families, the university, the town community and the engineer and crew of that freight train who will forever live with an inability to un-see that vision unfolding before their eyes while they tried valiantly to stop the train. Apparently mooning is – or hopefully WAS – A thing in that rural Midwestern town that lacked abundant social outlets for their young people. IIRC the woman was an Art Therapy major in her senior year working with school age children – even they would have experienced that loss. Senseless, risky behavior to what end?

    1. These days there’s a good chance those kids are home on their computers and/or phones. But train crews are still on the job and I feel apologetic for not thinking of them before. Of course they saw what was about to happen and had absolutely no way to stop that train. They, too, will forever live with that tragedy.

  5. You nailed it – those kids would be on computers or phones, good point…and hopefully NOT trying for a selfie at the train tracks. Too much sadness to contemplate. Thanks for your thought-provoking post and compassionate replies.

  6. I understand that there are about 1,000 derailments in the U.S. every year! That’s a testament to the seriousness of the problem, but also to the ubiquity of this essential mode of hauling bulk products. Surely there are solutions to this. The airlines have done a good job, trains can too if government holds their feet to the fire.

    1. One definitely gets the feeling that railroad tracks are in disrepair, as well as safety mechanisms on the trains — made worse but whatever RR requirement was rescinded by our ex president. Something about a brake requirement as I recall. Maintenance is critical, just as it is with planes and cars. With tracks running right through the heart of our citites, one cannot overstate the importance of safe operation.

  7. I’d be interested to see how many other RR companies use the same tracks. Seems odd to me that all of a sudden there’s an abundance of derailments – all of which happen to one company. I’m not following every news cycle on this, so I may be misinformed, but if I understand that one company is uniquely responsible for or victimized by these derailments… in these days of hateful, self centered political meanness, I can’t help but think maybe… sabotage.

    1. Google says the country averages roughly three derailments per day! I guess it’s so common that it took that massive toxic spill to get attention. That put Norfolk Southern and derailments in the headlines. I’ve always assumed many different railroad companies use those tracks, which raises the question of who is responsible for maintaining them and whether the derailments are caused by bad tracks, bad train maintenance, or indifferent poorly trained crews. Sabotage never crossed my mind, although if it occurred to you, it might well have occurred to other people as well. And, per Google, there are 140,000 miles of track crisscrossing the country …

... and that's my two cents