TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In the past five years, there have been more than 500 highway-rail grade crossing accidents, with 90 injuries and 80 fatalities, throughout Florida.
In an effort to publicize the hazard and cut down on these accidents, Gov. Charlie Crist has proclaimed the state’s fourth annual Train Safety Awareness Week, which will begin on Sunday.
During the week, law enforcement personnel will join train agency and Operation Lifesaver staff to distribute information on the topic.
Police will enforce a zero-tolerance policy during the week, issuing tickets to motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists who violate state statutes at railroad crossings. Fines for violations range from $190 to $1,000.
Crashes with school buses
School bus-train crashes are rare, but they can be deadly. In 2000, three children were killed and four were severely injured when their school bus was struck by a freight train near Conasauga, Tenn.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the driver, Rhonda Cloer, did not stop at the railroad crossing as school buses are required by law to do. Additionally, an on-board recording revealed that the radio was playing loudly at the time of the accident.
Before she was set to go on trial, Cloer pleaded guilty to three counts of criminally negligent homicide and four counts of reckless aggravated assault.
Last month, a train at a rail crossing in Dexter, N.M., hit the back end of a school bus. Police said that all of the children on board were sitting toward the front of the bus. Three of them were slightly injured.
Efforts to improve safety
In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation to reduce the risks that passive grade crossings — those not equipped with warning lights or an audible warning system — pose for school buses.
The NTSB asked state governments to install stop signs at crossings, require the installation of noise-reducing switches on newly purchased school buses (to mute the radio, heater and air conditioner) and enhance driver training.
As of September 2007, 33 states had enhanced driver training, while 16 states had begun requiring the noise-reducing switches on new school buses. More generally, 21 states had taken actions that satisfied the recommendation.
As a result, the NTSB removed the issue from its Most Wanted List, but it said it would continue to work with the remaining states to implement its recommendation.