NEWS ITEM: Woman Escapes Injury When Amtrak Clips Back Bumper.

It seems the woman was stopped in front of a railroad crossing in Orlando, FL, yesterday, when the car behind her started honking.

MISTAKE # 1: She drove ahead onto the railroad tracks.

When she realized a train was coming, she pulled forward as far as she could. Later she told a TV reporter what was going through her mind: “Do I jump out or stay in the car? I didn’t know what to do …”

MISTAKE # 2: She stayed in the car!

The train barely nicked her vehicle, although it was enough to tear the rear bumper off. The woman, fortunately, was uninjured.

This incident brings to mind an interesting subject. There are about 150,000 public grade crossings in the U.S. and, of these, just over a third have some kind or safety feature – gates or flashing lights. Accidents at these crossings are a big problem, with 500 to 600 people killed every year.

The great tragedy is that all of these accidents are avoidable. Carelessness or downright stupidity (see above) are the problem
99 percent of the time. Believe it or not, in most cases the motorist actually drives around the barrier and onto the tracks, trying to get across before the train reaches the intersection.

A personal note: About ten years ago, my daughter and I were on Amtrak’s Silver Star heading to Florida. Just outside of Savannah, Georgia, our train hit a car. It was a VW bus and the impact literally tore it in half. We were in the lounge car at the time and the attendant said, rather tartly I thought, “I hope we didn’t kill the guy.” She saw my expression and explained: “If he’s still alive, the ambulance will come and we’ll be able to leave as soon as they take him to the hospital. If he’s dead, we have to wait for them to find a coroner, and we could be stuck here for hours.” (The driver was dead, and we were delayed over two hours.)

The harsh reality is that a collision between a moving train and a car is no contest at all. An Amtrak engineer once told me that a fair comparison would be running over a mailbox with your family car. That’s a good image to keep in mind as we head off to the supermarket.

Oh … and if you should find yourself stuck on the tracks and a train is coming? Get out of the car!!