Cars come dangerously close to a train at Birmingham railroad crossings

    Driver of a pickup truck ignores gates at train crossing. ABC 33/40

    • Alabama is ranked in the Top 10 in the country for the most collisions and deaths at railroad crossings.
    • Sixty-six collisions, nine deaths and 23 injuries according to the most recent federal data.
    • The I-Team gained rare access and rode on a train to see what engineers face.
    • We found plenty of drivers ignoring railroad crossing gates and lights.

    Brett Jones has been an engineer and conductor for BNSF Railway for 18 years. During that time, he struck and killed one person at a railroad crossing, injured another in a separate incident, and he’s had lots of close calls. They’re not his fault.

    Jones remembers the day when the driver of a dump truck didn’t see his train. That driver died.

    “It was really upsetting, because he wasn’t really that old,” Jones said. “He wasn’t even 50 yet. It’s just unfortunate to have some somebody just because of a little lack of attention, or whatever. Because there’s no way we could have stopped in time.”

    Drivers try to beat the train

    Jones took us for a ride in Birmingham on two locomotives totaling 135 tons.

    The lights flashed and the gates came down at a railroad crossing. But a black SUV drove through anyway.

    At another crossing, two cars, including a taxi, tried to beat the train.

    Look how close our train came to a third car.

    And check this out: The gates came down and a white pickup truck drove through anyway.

    Drivers are distracted

    Nancy Hudson is director of Operation Lifesaver in Alabama. That’s a non-profit rail safety education organization.

    “I think we’re in too big of a hurry. We’ve got a lot on our mind. We’re distracted by things either inside the vehicle or our cellphones,” Hudson said.

    One driver was preoccupied with Facebook.

    Bryan Schaffer has been a special agent for BNSF Railway for 16 years. He’s pulled over more than 1,000 people for running rail crossings. On this day, he stopped several drivers, including one woman who thought Facebook was more important than a train.

    “All through the contact she never put Facebook away. That was her priority. Not the railroad crossing. Not the police officer who pulled her over. Facebook was her priority,” Schaffer said.

    Trains can’t stop on a dime

    A federal government public service announcement shows what happens when a fast-moving train collides with an SUV. It can take a mile to stop.

    “There’s no stopping,” Jones said. “It’s not a car. We just can’t slam on the brakes and maybe miss it. Most of the time, it’s out of our hands after we can do everything we can do.”

    It’s important to remember that a train is closer and faster than you think.

    A collision could kill you. Or, you could be disabled for the rest of your life.

    Operation Lifesaver says always expect a train when you approach a crossing.

    And if those lights are flashing. Stop. Waiting a few minutes means you get to go home to your family.

    What to do if your car stalls on the tracks

    And what should you do if your car stalls on the tracks?

    Get out.

    Move far away from your car.

    Call 911.

    And give the 911 operator your exact location—especially the name of the road that intersects the train crossing.

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