Road Safety and Rail Crossings/ Level Crossings

Excerpts from Douglas Kruger article – source: www.arrivealive.co.za

What is a level crossing?

The term level crossing (also called a railroad crossing, road through railroad, railway crossing, train crossing or grade crossing) is a crossing on one level (“at-grade intersection”) — without recourse to a bridge or tunnel — of a railway line by a road, path, or another railroad.

There are still over 7500 level crossings in South Africa today. Together, they represent a significant safety hazard to both road and rail users. In 2008 we had 13 fatalities in 129 incidents at level crossings under Transnet contol. Traffic control for road users varies from ‘passive’ signage to ‘active’ protection, which is a combination of warning lights or lights and boom gates. Train drivers also warn road users of oncoming trains by blowing the train horn at whistle boards. This is sometimes very annoying to life living in the vicinity.

An understanding of the way level crossings operate could save your life some day. The danger is particularly acute when travelling on an unfamiliar route.

There are still over 7500 level crossings in South Africa today. Together, they represent a significant safety hazard to both road and rail users. In 2008 we had 13 fatalities in 129 incidents at level crossings under Transnet contol. Traffic control for road users varies from ‘passive’ signage to ‘active’ protection, which is a combination of warning lights or lights and boom gates. Train drivers also warn road users of oncoming trains by blowing the train horn at whistle boards. This is sometimes very annoying to life living in the vicinity.

95 per cent of crashes at railway crossings are caused by driver error

Safety advice for motorists:

Follow road rules and signs and pay attention to the road environment when approaching rail crossings.

Remember if there’s a crossing, there’s danger.

Not all railway crossings have boom gates and the most do not have flashing lights.

When you see a sign indicating a crossing – slow down, look and listen and be prepared to stop at the yield sign but stop at the stop sign.

Slow down so that you can stop if necessary.

Trains in the distance are often closer and travelling faster than they appear.

Never enter a level crossing if red lights are flashing. Wait for the lights to stop flashing before driving across railway tracks

Do not cross the track until you are sure the train or trains have passed – If there are signals, wait until they stop flashing and, if the crossing has a barrier, wait until it rises before you cross.

Never drive around, under or through a railway gate while it is down or is being lowered or raised.

Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you will lose!

Accelerate swiftly till you reach the railway lines and drive over the railway lines. Avoid shifting gears on a railway crossing.

Never queue on a railway crossing – if you have stopped on a crossing and a train is approaching, immediately drive off the track or get out of your car and move clear

A common mistake is stopping on the tracks while waiting for traffic ahead of you to proceed. Not only do you risk a collision with a train, but your vehicle could be struck by the barrier arms if they’re activated. If you are caught between closed barriers it is better to drive through that being crushed by a train. (This practise was decided upon at the 10th International Symposium on Level crossings.)

To avoid these situations, stop well behind the barriers and wait until you have enough room to clear the tracks completely.

Do not get trapped on the tracks. Only proceed through a level crossing if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is a metre wider than the racks on both sides.

If you get trapped on a crossing or your vehicle failed, immediately get everyone out of the vehicle and move quickly from the track to a safe location. It will not help to stand on the rails and wave for the train to stop. It can’t.

Move quickly away in the direction the train is coming from. If you run in the same direction the train is travelling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris and burnt by the burning fuel.

If stuck on the rail call your local law enforcement agency for assistance – Some crossings have railway emergency numbers prominently displayed or phone 0801112239 indicating the road between which towns, the level crossing number or the nearest mast pole number on electrified lines .

At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.

Remember that regardless of what you drive, in a collision with a train, the train will always win.