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How to stay safe around railroad crossings

There were 12 injuries and two deaths around railroad crossings in Wisconsin last year, and eight more people died while trespassing on railroad tracks. State officials are trying to get those numbers down to zero by raising awareness during Rail Safety Week, which kicked off in Wisconsin on Monday with an event at Ashwaubenon's National Railroad Museum.

The average locomotive weights about 200 tons, or about 100 times as much as an average car, according to Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety education nonprofit. There's no question who will win in a face-off. And of course, a motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian stands even less of a chance. Because of this, it's important to be especially cautious around railroad crossings. Here are some of the safety tips offered by Operation Lifesaver.

Safety for drivers

  • Don't race trains. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to pass before crossing the tracks.
  • If there's no gate or stop sign, be sure you stop at least 15 feet away from the tracks.
  • Look both ways before you cross the tracks, then move quickly across.
  • If you stall while crossing and see a train approaching, get out of your car right away and move away from the tracks as fast as you can. Move in the direction the train is approaching from to avoid being hit by flying debris when the train hits your car.

Safety for pedestrians and bikers

  • This should go without saying, but don't trespass. Railroad tracks are private property and walking on them is illegal - not to mention dangerous.
  • Cross only at designated pedestrian crossings.
  • After a train passes, wait before crossing to make sure a second train isn't following.
  • Be alert: take out headphones and don't use your phone while crossing.
  • Step over, not onto, the tracks. If you're biking, it's better to walk your bike across the tracks to avoid getting your wheels caught between the rails. Be especially careful if the tracks are wet.

Remember, trains always have the right of way, even over emergency vehicles. And as we head into fall, keep in mind that the danger only increases with bad weather.  

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