Good morning. My name is Jennifer Homendy and I’m a Board Member with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
As many of you know, the NTSB is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating transportation accidents, including certain grade crossing incidents.
I’m pleased to be here today in celebration of Rail Safety Week, with some tremendous partners that are dedicated to preventing tragedies and saving lives.
Illinois is the “nerve center” of our nation’s rail network, with over 40 freight and passenger railroads operating on nearly 10,000 miles of track daily.
So there’s no better place and time to remind everyone just how important it is to be alert around grade crossings and to stay off the tracks.
With more than 210,000 grade crossings in the U.S., accidents occur every day. In fact, it happens more than you think. About every 3 hours a person or vehicle is hit by a train.
In 2018, there were 270 grade crossing deaths in the U.S. and another thousand trespasser deaths, yet every one of those deaths was 100% preventable.
The good news is grade crossing fatalities are going down – it’s about a third of what it was 30 years ago, thanks to technologies like gates and lights; public education campaigns like Operation Lifesaver; and the hard work of railroads, like Union Pacific and Metra; organizations like Safe Kids who make it their mission to protect children; and safety advocates like Dr. Wilson.
But we’re not at zero yet, so we have to continue to send a clear message to stay off the tracks.
The NTSB has investigated a number of incidents where vehicles, including school buses, were stuck on tracks and then hit by oncoming trains.
So if you do get stuck, get out of the vehicle, move away from the tracks, and call 9-1-1 or even better call the number on the blue sign – called the Emergency Notification System sign which is located by the crossing – and tell the railroad what’s going on so they can stop the train.
A lot of people mistakenly think that a train is going to be able to stop if the engineer sees a vehicle or person on the tracks. It can take a mile or a mile and a half to stop a train, so please stay safe, obey the signs at crossings, look for trains as you approach those crossings, and stay off the tracks.