‘Can do a lot of damage:’ Law enforcement agencies focus on safety at rail crossings

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Lieutenant Anne Maxson

RACINE -- The Wisconsin State Patrol on Tuesday, Sept. 24 partnered with law enforcement agencies across the state to enforce laws and help educate travelers on the dangers associated with disregarding rail crossing signs/gates and trespassing on railroad property.

"The devastation that a train can do to a semi, you can just imagine what it'd do to a car," said Lieutenant Anne Maxson, Wisconsin State Patrol.

Wisconsin has more than 3,300 miles of active train tracks and more than 4,000 public railroad crossings.

In 2018 in Wisconsin, 39 train-related crashes resulted in 12 injuries and four fatalities. Also, three fatalities and three injuries resulted from people trespassing on rail property.

"One of the things that we see quite often is people driving around the gates once the gates come down," said Maxson. "They try to drive through because they don't want to wait."

On Tuesday, a trooper was keeping a close eye on the tracks near WIS 11 and County Road H -- part of the third annual “Operation Clear Track" -- a nationwide initiative to educate people about the dangers of busy railroad crossings.

"This morning, one of our officers did stop a school bus who slowed, opened its doors as it came up to the railroad crossing, but it did not come to a complete stop," said Maxson. "School buses are required to stop at a railroad crossing, whether the gates are down or not, to make sure it's clear before the procedure."

Maxson said the few seconds saved by skirting the rules is what can lead to a devastating crash.

'It's not worth it," said Maxson. "It takes a long time for a train to stop. If something happens to your car and you stall, or you're a semi and you stall over the tracks, it can take a train up to a mile before it can stop. The impact and the weight of that can do a lot of damage."

Below are rail safety tips for motorists and pedestrians:

  • Cross train tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings. Obey all warning signs and signals. Never drive or walk around lowered crossing gates.
  • Trains can take a mile or more to stop. Freight trains don’t have fixed schedules and can be seen any time of day.
  • As you carefully cross railroad tracks, make sure you have enough room to get safely across. Getting stuck in traffic within a crossing is dangerous. Remember that trains overhang tracks by at least three feet on both sides.
  • Train tracks and rail yards are private property, so it is illegal and dangerous to trespass on rail property.
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