As SEPTA gears up for its seventh annual Safety Day on May 1, the transit agency is urging pedestrians and motorists to remember the mantra, "respect the train."
"We’ve seen the images of devastating grade crossing accidents from across the country. On April 8, one of those accidents happened on our Media/Elwyn Line tracks," SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel said Wednesday.
Knueppel was referring to an incident in Lansdowne in which a woman who was apparently unaware that a train was passing through tried to drive around railroad arms. A train slammed into the woman's SUV, killing her. The accident happened despite the presence of rail crossing markers, arm bars and light-up signs at the intersection.
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"One life is too many in an accident that could have been even more catastrophic," Knueppel said. "SEPTA remains committed to educating our communities about rail grade crossing safety in order to reduce collision incidents that result in injury or devastating loss."
SEPTA officials said rail trespassing is one of the top safey concerns, and advised people traveling by foot and car to observe important safety precautions when near train tracks and grade crossings. Closing gates, warning bells and flashing lights indicate that a train is approaching and has the right of way.
In addition to safety concerns, there are also financial considerations for those who don't observe the rules. Transit officials warned that drivers passing through flashers or crossing gates are in violation of motor vehicle laws and are subject to heavy fines. Motorists should look for road markers that indicate the safest distance for their cars to stop from the grade crossing when the gates are down.
"Never travel into a crossing until the flashing lights go out completely," SEPTA Assistant General Manager of System Safety Jim Fox said Wednesday. "There may be a second train coming from the opposite direction that will re-activate the gates. Trains can’t swerve to avoid something in their way or stop on a dime like a rubber-tired vehicle."
Fox also advised against driving onto tracks at a grade crossing unless there is plenty of space to pull ahead.
“The crossing gates could come down with your car on the tracks and no room to drive forward or reverse back," he said.
And listen up — people may be under the impression that they can wait until they hear a train coming before they clear the tracks, but transit officials warned against that.
“Today’s trains aren’t loud. Electric vehicles and welded rails mean trains no longer make that clickety-clack noise. You won’t know the train is coming until it’s too late to get out of the way,” said Knueppel.