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Unprotected railroad crossings need active warning devices

At an unprotected public railroad crossing near Pana, Ill., five people were killed when their van was struck by a freight train.

Unprotected public crossings have no active warning devices, such as signals and gates. There are thousands of these risky crossings in this country.

After a rash of fatal trespasser accidents on railroad tracks near a school in Villa Park, Ill., fencing was installed. Far too many children had died after being struck by trains. Trespassing immediately stopped.

Tracks running near schools, parks, paths of convenience, etc. with no protective fencing in place are known as “hot spots.” There are thousands of well-known and deadly “hot spots” in this country.

The government and the railroads are to be applauded for their efforts to implement Positive train control. Positive train control is a costly and intricate system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speeds, unauthorized train movements in work zones and the movement of trains through switches left in the wrong position.

Sadly, positive train control will not prevent most railroad crossing or trespass accidents. It is estimated that positive train control will not prevent about 95% of the fatalities that occur on railroad tracks.

For 25 years, I have investigated train accidents and, during that time, there has not been a significant effort to install active warning devices at unprotected crossings or place protective fencing at known “hot spots.” It is just not a top priority. It should be.

George Swimmer, CPA |

Downers Grove, Ill.

Editor’s note: George Swimmer is the author of “Railroad Collisions, A Deadly Story of Mismanaged Risk.” He can be reached by email at [email protected]