Dirk Peterson, manager of operating practices for Omaha-based Union Pacific, says it’s a very serious issue to cross the tracks, especially if the red lights are flashing. Peterson is organizing train engine ride-alongs for police departments across the region to educate law officers and the public.
“It helps get the message out that it is absolutely imperative that the public stops and heeds the warning that is provided at the railroad crossing,” Peterson says, whether it’s to yield and look both ways or to come to a complete stop, because they don’t want to see more collisions at crossings.
Peterson says people need to use extra caution around railroad crossings, especially those that do not have electronic signals.
He says there might be times where a train is stopped on a crossing, so if people aren’t in the habit of stopping or yielding at those crossings, it’s a good possibility they might strike the side of a train.
Peterson says people need to remember a flashing red light at a crossing means people need to stop, even if a train is not visible. By law, flashing red lights at a railroad crossing mean the motorist is required to come to a complete stop, and if it’s safe, then to cross.
“If they can see that train approaching and they can hear that whistle blowing, it’s not a safe time to cross,” he says. “It’s very difficult to judge the speed of a train. That headlight is very deceiving. It’s hard to tell if that train’s going ten miles an hour or 50 miles an hour.”
According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, between January and September this year, 92 people were reported injured in train accidents this year in Nebraska, including four deaths. Two of the fatalities were in Scotts Bluff County, the others were in Saline County and Sherman County.