What do you think are the major causes of train and railroad crashes? Speedy train. Negligence. Human error. Reckless pedestrians and drivers as well as mechanical failure are also listed as causative factors behind train and railroad crashes. Others include unprotected railroad crossings. Stalled cars on the track.Suicides. Defective tracks and derailments.
I don’t know if you followed the Lagos train/BRT bus crash. If you did, you must have heard and read all the reports about the crash. They all point to the suicidal tendencies displayed by the BRT bus driver despite pleas by several passengers which he ignored. Almost all the causative factors listed played out in the Lagos crash.
Let me prioritize reckless pedestrians and drivers which speaks to the focus of the recent crash. In most train accidents just like the Lagos one, the fault was not by the train operator but majorly a result of a reckless or distracted pedestrian standing by or crossing the tracks at the wrong time. It could be that of the driver like the BRT bus driver. The driver can be responsible for leaving his vehicle parked on a train track or trying to beat the train across a crossing.
In the case of negligence, it might be by the Railway Company, a conductor or employee, a government agency, or an equipment manufacturer. I listed human error in my introduction. In this case, it could be due to the inexperience of the conductor or others. respect for experience. Human error ranges from poor judgment to vision issues or impaired reactions. Additionally, it could be fatigue which has no respect for experience.
This is why both operators and users must be conversant with their safety. Before I dwell more on my focus for today which is on the best safety practice at railway crossings, I believe I should take you down memory lane on some snippets of past train crashes in other climes. First, let me start with the biggest train crashes in the world. It was the 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami train wreck which ranks as the largest single rail disaster with a death toll of 1700 fatalities. I won’t bore you with the details as these can be sourced.
Rather, I think you need to know about the famous train crash. It was the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne derailment in France which occurred in 1917. This crash caused the death of more than 700 people. To date, it is the greatest rail disaster in French history. It was caused by brake failure. In the case of the United State of America, the worst train crash remains the Great Train Wreck of 1918 involving two passenger trains that collided head-on. The fatality varies. But at least 101 lives were lost while about 171 were injured.
The United Kingdom had what is known as the Paddington rail crash of 1999. Thirty-one people lost their lives in that crash. Several hundred sustained various degrees of injuries. It occurred after two passenger trains almost collided head-on after one of them had passed a signal of danger.
The African continent has had its fair share too. The worst is referred to as the Igandu train disaster of 2002 which occurred in Tanzania. This occurred when a passenger train with over 1200 people rolled backward down a hill into a slow-moving good train. Two hundred and eighty-one people were killed in that crash.
Among all these crashes and more the thin lines responsible are negligence, human error as well as reckless pedestrians and drivers. Our concern which I partly treated last week is the Lagos train/BRT bus train which we all agree was avoidable just like every other crash that occurs on our roads.
Remember that in my introduction, I reminded you of the concern of global bodies such as the World Health Organization and the World Bank over rising crashes caused majorly by excessive speed among others. Speed is not just a concern over the road but also over train crashes as well.
Meanwhile, until Government releases the report on the Lagos disaster, we might not know the full details besides driver recklessness. Until then, let me focus on how not to be killed at a railway crossing. I will leave the trench on the status of the appropriate iron bars at the Lagos railway level crossing meant to prevent trains from running into vehicles. But what really is the best practice at railway crossings?
What I did was to source for the best safety practice at railway crossings and here are my findings. Like the BRT driver, most people pay little or no attention to highway railway crossings. Their reason is that they drive there daily without seeing a train and so throw caution to the wind which is risky and dangerous
I have therefore chosen to again publish verbatim the second part of what I sourced with very minor additions or commentary. I had earlier shared the first to the fourth point that needs to be noted by road as well as train users. First, you must know that trains can be on any track, at any time, going in either direction. You must remember that when locomotive engineers see a vehicle or person on the tracks in the path of their train, they can only sound the warning horn and apply the emergency brakes.
For emphasis, a train in emergency braking will stop, but not in time to avoid this collision. The average freight train consisting of 100 cars and weighing anywhere from 12 million to 20 million pounds takes over a mile to stop in emergency braking. Although there are brakes on every wheel, it takes that long for all of those brakes to overcome the momentum of the tremendous weight pushing the train.
Secondly, always yield the right of way to the train which the BRT driver failed to do hoping he would outrun the train. The train cannot yield to you. More than half of all motor vehicle-train collisions occur at crossings equipped with automatic signals. These collisions occur because some drivers choose to drive around the gates or through the flashing red lights believing they can beat the train, or they assume a stopped train has activated the signals or the signals are malfunctioning.