Some drivers sneak through a railroad crossing because they think it won’t be hard to beat a train going 50 mph.
The fatal mistake those motorists make is not being aware of another train, going 70 mph, that they don’t even see. Their view of the other train is blocked by the first train until it’s too late.
Alan Buss, a conductor for Union Pacific Railroad, urges drivers to stop at crossing gates, and to always expect a second train. The two trains could be traveling the same direction or opposite directions.
It takes a 150-car train traveling 50 mph a minute and 45 seconds to make it past a railroad grade crossing. So drivers in a hurry risk their lives trying to save about two minutes, said Brian Young, a Union Pacific engineer.
Buss and Young were at the controls of a locomotive used in a Union Pacific safety demonstration Wednesday in Grand Island. They were inside the cab of a C44AC diesel locomotive built by General Electric in 1996.
That locomotive weighs slightly more than 400,000 pounds. Imagine how much power that engine brings to a collision with a vehicle. Even in the case of a tie, Young said, the locomotive wins.
Invited to ride along with the Union Pacific workers were members of the media and local law enforcement officers. The officers were stationed at highway-railroad grade crossings for two reasons — to observe motorists ignoring crossing gates and to issue citations.
It takes a loaded coal train, traveling 50 mph, about two miles to come to a stop, Young said. An empty train requires a mile to stop. A coal train typically totals 135 cars.
Contrary to popular belief, Young said, crossing gates are not controlled by the crew in the cab. Those gates come down automatically 30 to 40 seconds before the train approaches an intersection.
Buss, a 40-year-old North Platte resident, has worked for Union Pacific 12 years. Young, 42, lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and works out of Fremont. He has worked for UP 15 years.
A sticker inside the cab of the locomotive said, “Help us save lives, theirs and ours. Report unsafe motorists at grade crossings.” Below that was an 800 number.
Wednesday’s event was part of the Union Pacific’s Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety (UP CARES) program.
When it comes to highway-railroad grade crossings, the UP asks drivers “to heed the warnings that are at each grade crossing,” said spokesman Mark Davis.
The signals mean the same thing, whether they’re a “nonactive warning device, which is that white X that says railroad crossing, or crossings with lights and gates,” Davis said.
The message is to yield the right of way to a train. If drivers heed those warnings, “we would reduce collisions immensely,” he said.
Wednesday’s exercise was an effective demonstration of how busy railroads are. The journey was supposed to begin at 2:30 p.m., but the locomotive didn’t start moving until after 4. After traveling four miles, the train didn’t complete the return trip to the yard office area until 6, meaning it took three and a half hours to travel eight miles.