Amtrak is coming; stay track-smart

Published 2:22 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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For the first time in 17 years, Amtrak will offer service to the Gulf Coast. In the next few months, passengers will have access to two daily round trips between New Orleans and Mobile with stops in four Mississippi cities along the way. This is great news for the area — but it also prompts an important reminder regarding track safety, as we add trains that go faster than freight speeds.

By following a few common-sense tips, drivers and pedestrians can stay safe while railroads go about the vital business of delivering goods and people to their destinations.

Tip #1: Stop at railroad crossings.

Obey all traffic control signals, including gates, lights, signs, pavement markings, and audible warnings such as bells, lights, and horns. Stop at the crossing and look both ways before proceeding.

Tip #2: Stay alert while crossing.

Modern passenger trains are quieter than ever, and approaching trains are closer and moving faster than you think. That makes using headphones, talking on the phone, and shooting texts potential hazards.

Tip #3: Cross with purpose.

It is illegal to be on railroad property anywhere other than a designated pedestrian or roadway crossing. Don’t loiter around the rails. If you’re pushing a stroller or wheelchair, or riding a bike, cross the tracks at a 90° angle perpendicular to the rails — otherwise, wheels can get stuck.

Tip #4: Avoid stopping on the crossing.

It’s a rare occurrence, but sometimes you wind up stopped on the tracks. First, get off the tracks by driving around the car ahead of you or through the lowered gate. If that isn’t possible, abandon your vehicle and run at a 45-degree angle away from the tracks. Every crossing in the country has nearby blue emergency notification signs with a phone number and the crossing location. By calling that number, dispatchers can direct the engineer to stop the train with emergency brakes.

Tip #5: Don’t jog, bike, walk, or engage in recreational activities on the tracks.

Trespassers are most often pedestrians who walk across or along railroad tracks as a shortcut to another destination. Some trespassers hunt, fish, bike, or operate recreational off-highway vehicles along the tracks. Recreation on the rails is trespassing.

Tip #6: Find another location to picnic, pose or party.

Trespassing remains the top cause of rail-related deaths. Partying, making videos, and taking wedding or graduation photos can turn fatal around rail tracks. Taking pictures on railroad property is illegal and highly dangerous.

Steve Predmore is Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief safety officer. For more information and safety resources, visit Operation LifesaverSee Tracks? Think Train, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Stay Off the Tracks. This article originally ran in The Advocate & The Times-Picayune.