Our law firm has handled several auto-train cases in which we discovered our client (or the deceased person whose family we were representing) had tried to “beat” the train by driving around the railroad crossing arms. Aside from the disappointment of having a now-worthless claim, these cases always make us wonder what the heck the auto driver was thinking. Were those several minutes for the train to pass so important that you were willing to risk your life to avoid the delay?
Most of us have seen photos or even video of trains hitting cars, trucks, and other objects. Have you noticed the train always wins? Don’t take the risk.
A recent column in the Dallas Morning News made this point very well. Here are excerpts:
The officer on board Wednesday was Alex Shelton of the Saginaw Police Department. Saginaw sits on the north side of Fort Worth and is bisected by busy railroad tracks.
Though he sees lots of violations, Shelton said he has written only one ticket for a particularly blatant case of ignoring the railroad warning signals. Now he may write more.
He stood behind the engineer during our ride through Saginaw and on up to the Alliance Airport rail yard. “When you are in here, you get a whole different perspective on what the dangers are,” Shelton said.
What becomes even more glaringly obvious from inside the hulking beast is that trains and cars are no match at all. One apt comparison is that a train hitting your car is like your car hitting an aluminum can.
Yet cars race trains to the crossing day after day. Clanton, the conductor, remembers one driver who cut it so close that he actually lost sight of the car beneath the nose of the train. “I jumped up just in time to see two little heads in the back seat,” he said.
The sight still haunts him. The train missed the car by inches.
“You just can’t stop,” he said. Get this: If an engineer throws the emergency brake on a loaded freight train moving at the 70-mph speed limit, it will take a mile and a half to stop.
So while I enjoyed the powerful feeling of being inside the locomotive, there was also an unexpected sense of vulnerability. Cars and trucks constantly crossed our path, and there was a realization that nothing could be done to avoid a crash if one came too close.
Prather, the engineer, said he feels it, too — that odd sense of vulnerability. “We don’t have a steering wheel. We can’t swerve,” he said. “If it goes bad, you’re just stuck.”