Be safe at crossings

Published 6:41 pm Friday, September 25, 2020

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People who deal with incidents at railroad crossings in Suffolk have come to regard them as a matter of not if, but when.

That’s the message from Norfolk Southern Public Safety Director William Miller. In an interview this week promoting Rail Safety Week and a new partnership the rail line has with Waze, he said the incidents have become “almost a yearly occurrence” in Suffolk.

He’s right. Since 1975, there have been 64 vehicle/train incidents in the 47 at-grade crossings in Suffolk. Many of them have resulted in tragic deaths, as have incidents with pedestrians on the tracks, as well.

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Since 2000, 19 at-grade crossing incidents in the city have occurred, including two so far this year, two last year, three in 2018 and one in 2016.

The partnership with Waze is in its second year, but users of Waze — a navigation app — in Suffolk just started seeing safety messages this week, when the partnership expanded to Suffolk.

Users in the downtown Suffolk area, where many of the crashes happen due to the numerous railroad crossings, see safety messages through the app. One says, “Tracks nearby. Be smart. Be safe.” The other says, “Your safety starts with you. Cross carefully.”

Miller stressed that drivers should not try to go around lowered gates or try to beat a train.

“We tell people, no matter what, don’t ever try to beat a train,” Miller said. “It’s just not worth it. If  there’s a reason that a train is stopped, and it’s longer than normal, turn around.”

Other safety tips around trains include:

The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think.

Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly.

Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.

Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping.

If your vehicle ever stalls on the tracks, get out and get away from the tracks, even if you do not see a train. Locate the Emergency Notification System sign and call the number provided, telling them about the stalled vehicle.

At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.

When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.

Always expect a train. Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

Rail Safety Week began Sept. 21 and continues through Sept. 27. For more information about safety around trains, visit