This article appears in Nov.-December 2019 Family magazine.
Parents are concerned with all kinds of dangers facing their children, from online bullying to buckling up in the car, but one topic is being overlooked, experts say. New research shows that a majority of parents do not consider children being hit by trains to be a problem, despite the fact that in the United States every five days a child is killed in a train collision.
“Parents don’t really see it as an issue. Seven out of 10 parents are not concerned at all,” said Morag MacKay, research director of Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit working to prevent childhood injury.
The report, “Railroads: An Often Overlooked Danger to Children,” highlights two main circumstances that result in tragedies: collisions at railroad crossings and trespassing. Nearly all of these incidents are preventable.
Less than half of parents reported that they had even talked to their children about railroad safety, and an equal number said they didn’t know whether the issue was covered in school. Half of parents also admitted to taking risks around railroads.
“I don’t think that it’s consciously being overlooked,” said Chantez Bailey, director of communications and marketing for Operation Lifesaver, the largest rail safety organization in the United States, founded by Union Pacific Railroad. “Sometimes it may just be a message that parents believe their children already know, and assume they completely understand the rail dangers on the tracks.
“But we know we can’t assume that our children are fully aware of the dangers. They may not understand that it’s actually illegal and considered trespassing to walk on the tracks. They may not realize how long it actually takes for a train to come to a complete stop,” Bailey said.
“Railroad tracks are a right of way and private property. The No. 1 reason for this is safety,” MacKay said. “Trains take a very long time to stop, about a mile, so if they can see you they can’t stop on time.”
While commuter trains run at regularly scheduled times, freight trains are less predictable, she said.
Many people are also not aware of a train’s overhang, which is about three feet on either side of the tracks, MacKay said.
“For families that live near railroad crossings and cross regularly as pedestrians, on bikes or in cars, when you are stopped by a train take it as a perfect opportunity to have a conversation about railroad safety. Talk about why we stop, why we don’t try to go around the gates and what is safe behavior around tracks,” MacKay said.
Safe Kids and Union Pacific recommend the following tips to help prevent railroad-related injuries:
• Only cross train tracks at a designated crossing marked by a sign, lights or a gate.
• If lights are flashing or the gate is down at a railroad crossing, wait for the train to pass completely, the gates to lift and the lights to stop flashing before crossing the tracks. Do not try to rush across and beat the train. Trains may be closer and faster than you think, or your car may stall or get stuck on the tracks.
• Allow enough space for your vehicle to completely clear the entire railroad crossing, not just the tracks, before you attempt to cross.
• Remember “heads up, devices down” when you cross the tracks.
• Don’t be tempted to walk along the train tracks. It might be a shortcut, but it is dangerous and not worth the risk.