Railroad train intersection deaths up in Oklahoma as people attempt to beat oncoming trains

Thousands of trains crisscross rural roads and city streets each year.

When people on foot or in vehicles try to beat trains across those intersections, the results can be deadly.

In the first six months of 2013, 13 people have been killed by trains in Oklahoma - a 69.5 percent increase in fatalities over all of 2012.

In the past few weeks the fatality number has jumped to 18 this year.

The 2NEWS Investigators took our cameras into the cab of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive. Almost immediately we saw people attempting to beat the train.

In less than half an hour on the rail, an engineer on the train pointed out a man crossing the tracks.

"There's a guy playing chicken with us," he said.

Moments later, a bicyclist scooted around the crossing gate to beat the train.

The Federal Railroad Administration says 87 percent of fatalities involving trains are the direct result of poor judgment or risky behavior.

Our own Facebook survey found about one in 10 respondents have had a friend or relative killed trying to beat a train.

My uncle and my other uncle's wife were driving and they tried to beat a train. She was killed instantly. Every time I see people racing to beat a train I think of that," Shannan Williams wrote.

Lots of respondents also admitted going around railroad crossing gates to avoid having to wait.

Trying to beat the train has gone viral.

A police dash cam from the North Salt Lake Police Department shows a car getting hit twice as it goes around the guardrails to try to beat a pair of trains across the tracks. The driver miraculously survived.

Mobile readers can see the video here http://youtu.be/lVGkDafT6sU.

But not all crossings have lights or crossing gates, particularly in rural areas.

In Nowata County on Sept. 30, sisters, 6-year-old Hannah and 9-year-old Hailey Benham, died after a train hit an SUV driven by their mother.

The cause of the incident is still under investigation.

Without exception, trains always have the right of way as they cross a road. The intersection where the little girls died has a sign showing tracks are present.

John Knight lives nearby and he said he wants to see more.  

"We just lost two precious children at that crossing. How many more do we have to lose? How many more accidents before we can have lights and gates at our crossing?" said Knight.

Looking down the tracks on-coming trains appear slow-moving, but freight trains a mile or more long race down the tracks at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.

Whether a rail crossing has only a sign or lights and gates, trains are supposed to blow their whistles while approaching and crossing roads. From when the whistle begins to blow, or crossing arms come down, there's only about 15 to 20 seconds before the train races through the intersection.

In fact, to put it in perspective, stopping distance for an engine pulling a mile or more of cars will take the length of 18 football fields laid end-to-end.

Ultimately, the railroads and law enforcement say safety on the tracks is your responsibility.

Safety experts say when you come to tracks crossing the road, stop and look both ways, and whatever you do, don't try to beat a train across the tracks.


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