Railroad crossing safety: why all stops are different

Railroad crossing safety: why all stops are different

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - With hundreds of public and private railroad crossings in Southwest Louisiana, many of which go directly through towns. Safety is a top priority for law enforcement and companies using the tracks.

When going to the store, drivers can see not all railroad crossings are the same. Some have lights and crossing arms while others just have a sign. Why aren’t all crossings the same?

One reason: the cost.

“Well, different crossings have different levels of protection based on the traffic volume," says Sergeant James Anderson with State Police. "It’s very expensive to install all these signals at crossings.”

According to Union Pacific’s Jeff DeGraff, local authorities make the call on which safety measures are put in place at crossings and their company only installs them.

“We work with the communities to help them decide which apparatus may be most suitable for a particular crossing and we actually do the installation ourselves to make sure they are put in properly," says DeGraff, "But the level of warning devices, signage, and what not, is determined by local authorities.”

At the crossing in Sulphur where a train hit a vehicle Monday, there are no crossing arms, but there are bells and lights. That collision marks the seventh recorded train-involved incident there.

Meanwhile, the crossing a few hundred feet down the same track has all three safety precautions, with only two recorded incidents at that crossing.

DeGraff says when they work these incidents with local authorities, Union Pacific sees what they can do to help prevent other accidents from happening, but according to Sgt Anderson, sometimes the safety measures put in place aren’t the problem.

“Even if you did have them at every crossing, roughly half of the collisions we investigate occur at crossings with active warning signals that warn of the approach of a train.” says Anderson.

DeGraff says in those cases, drivers are often distracted or trying to outrun the train.

The Federal Railroad Administration keeps records of all incidents involving trains. You can click here to find reports in our area.

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