Southern Colorado train crash prompts train safety message for drivers

Published: Jun. 29, 2016 at 6:15 PM MDT
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A four-year-old girl is the sole survivor of Sunday's horrific train crash near Trinidad, Colorado, after five of her family members were killed.

Officials said failure to yield the right of way to an Amtrak train traveling westbound is considered the primary factor in the crash.

"If you’re not paying attention you can easily be in harm’s way," said Warren Ritchey, a Grand Junction resident who drives over the Palisade train tracks frequently. “I look for trains because you just never know.”

Nationwide, a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours, according to Operation Life Saver.

CDOT works with Operation Life Saver to minimize fatalities between vehicles and trains. CDOT officials said there are about 1,000 locations in Colorado where vehicles have to cross train tracks.

Mesa County has over 80 crossings, with about 60 percent of those crossings being at-grade, meaning cars can cross the tracks. CDOT said the busiest railroad crossing locations in Mesa County are along the Highway 6 corridor between Palisade and 30 Road in Grand Junction.

CDOT said it is important to stop 15 feet from a rail, look both ways and listen because drivers may need to cross multiple tracks.

However, if the car ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris.

"Well need to be aware that trains are there–they go fast and a lot of times there is no warning," Ritchey said.

"You always slow down, look both ways, and actually roll your windows down, so you can hear if something is coming, because the light may not be working,” said Steven Harrison, a Palisade resident.

Operation Life Saver provided the tips below for crossing train tracks:

1. Trains and cars don't mix. Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.

2. The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks, especially at a multiple track crossing.

3. Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That's 18 football fields!

4. Never drive around lowered gates—it's illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.

5. Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.

6. ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

For more general safety tips, click the Operation Life Saver link on the right side of this screen.