Next week is Rail Safety Week in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Here in Iowa, we rely on our railroads to move the things we produce to markets around the world. While trains are a vital part of our transportation system and have captivated the imagination of generations, there are dangers associated when vehicle and train traffic mix. According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, 1,901 highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred in the U.S. in 2020. During that same time, there were 25 crashes between trains and vehicles at public rail crossings in Iowa.
Railroads are privately owned companies. Entities like the Iowa Department of Transportation, cities, and counties have agreements with these companies to share the space where a road and railroad cross. There are a variety of rules and regulations on signage and other safety elements to help you navigate the crossings. But one element is universal, as a driver you have the responsibility to look and listen for a train every time you cross a track.
Crossings with gravel roads and private crossings require a bit more of your attention than urban crossings that often have signs, lights, and crossbucks. This time of year tall crops and other vegetation may obscure the view down a track, so it’s extremely important to take the extra time to listen for the sound of an oncoming train, especially at a track that doesn’t have lights and/or crossbucks.
If you notice an issue at a public highway-rail crossing, such as a signal malfunction look for the blue sign at the crossing and call the number listed to report it. Your report can increase safety for everyone. You can also find the contact numbers for the railroads at https://iowadot.gov/iowarail/report-a-problem/contacts-for-signal-malfunction.
So far in 2021, there have been 238 deaths in traffic crashes. That is an increase of 10 since last Friday. To see statistics published daily by the Office of Driver Services, go to the daily fatality report at https://www.iowadot.gov/mvd/stats/daily.pdf