Dangerous train accidents are a serious issue, as statistics are beginning to show a rise in accidents nationwide. Recently, a crash north of Rosepine has brought the topic of train safety to the top of the public's awareness.

The crash involved a mother and her child as their car was impacted by a northbound train on Tuesday. The vehicle flipped into a nearby ditch after the train struck its right rear side. The two were airlifted to Rapides Medical where they were treated for minor injuries.

“This particular accident both the mother and the child were lucky to escape with only minor injuries,” State Trooper Cooper Brown said. “Thankfully both of them were wearing seatbelts and the baby was in a car seat that was properly placed in the middle seat of the vehicle.”

Brown went on to mention that many accidents can be avoided just by being careful and not in a hurry.

“People should remember to always be careful around railroad crossings,” he said. “Unfortunately, some people try to beat the train and that’s how these accidents happen.”

The question that arises in the wake of this accident, and others like it, is who is responsible for public safety when it comes to railroad crossings?

While this may seem like an isolated issue there have been seven accidents at that same crossing, with the last five taking place in the past three years. National trends have shown that railroad accidents have increased over the past two years. Data released by the Highway Safety Research Group at Louisiana State University (LSU) shows that 266 people died at railroad crossings in 2016, a 16 percent increase from the previous year.

Is it the responsibility of individual drivers, or should more railroad crossings receive modern safety updates?

The crossing in this most recent incident had no guard rails, crossing arms or flashing lights. There was only a single sign of the railroad crossing.

The Beauregard Daily News reached out to the public to see how citizens felt about the issue.

Autumn Groomes expressed that she feels that the responsibility lies with both, but in this situation there should have been more safety measures applied at the railroad tracks.

“I do feel that if you have a housing development next to train tracks, there should be lights, signs and guard rails,” Groomes said.

“There are children constantly playing around, and they may not be aware of a train coming. I have come up to the train crossing several times with a train approaching and not blaring its horn or giving any indication that it is coming. That frightens me.”

There are many who feel that the railroad crossings should have more safety updates to prevent accidents.

Candace Almond expressed that while she believes that drivers should be more responsible, she also believes that there should be things like crossing arms, guard rails and flashing lights at all crossings.

“If there is a crossing, there should be lights and crossing arms that block drivers from being downright stupid and going around and between,” Almond said.

While there are many who believe that there should be more guard rails, crossing arms and flashing lights. There are others who say that drivers should be much more alert. Their position is supported by information from the Federal Railroad Administration which stated that in 2017 52 percent of accidents happened at crossings that had both flashing lights and and crossing arms.

James E Perkins cited his own families background working on railroads, and believes that people should be better educated.

“My family worked on railroads you will not believe the stories of wrecks and death they experienced,” he said. “It's not necessary and the expense would be out of world to have lights and crossing arms at every little crossing. Maybe they’re not being taught”

Crossing arms can cost between $100,000-$200,000, and some feel that putting them at every crossing would be too much of a financial burden on local government.

There are many groups and campaigns that have started in response to the rise in these accidents. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission (LHSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are working to prevent

"It is easy for a driver to misjudge a train's speed and distance from a crossing, and that can lead to a tragic situation," Freeman said. "The LHSC is joining the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's campaign to remind drivers to stop if a train is approaching. It simply isn't worth the risk to try to beat a train."

Louisiana Operation Lifesaver is an organization dedicated to educating the public about railroad safety and working to prevent railroad accidents. It seeks to accomplish their with what they call the ‘Three E’s:”

Education: Operation Lifesaver strives to increase public awareness about the dangers around the rails. The program seeks to educate both drivers and pedestrians to make safe decisions at crossings and around railroad tracks.

Enforcement: Operation Lifesaver promotes active enforcement of traffic laws relating to crossing signs and signals and private property laws related to trespassing.

Engineering: Operation Lifesaver encourages continued engineering research and innovation to improve the safety of railroad crossings.

The organization delivers free presentations on train safety from kids to adults. It also provides presentations to help law enforcement, firefighters, school bus drivers, and any group that wants to learn more about how to avoid hazardous accidents.

Claude Maher, the Executive Director of Operation Lifesaver Louisiana, stressed the importance of railroad safety education.

“The responsibility falls on the driver of the motor vehicle,” Maher said. “A train always has the right of way. A train traveling at 55 miles per hour takes about a mile to come to a complete stop. A crash could cause a derailment and be detrimental to the surrounding community.”

Maher said that although younger drivers may not be fully aware of the dangers of railroad crossings, accidents affect all age groups equally. “In many of these accidents, the drivers are usually impaired impatient or distracted. It usually stems from the driver’s error.”

One of the things Maher said that the average person doesn’t always know is that at every public railroad crossing there is an emergency notification sign. This sign will give location information and a toll free number to call and report the situation.

“I would advise the public if they see a problem to find that sign, call the number and report the situation,” he said. “We want everyone to know that a train could come at any time and to focus on keeping themselves safe.” 

For more information those interested can reach Maher at 225-921-8381 or via email at operationlifesaver@la.gov