Return of the E&N Demands Attention
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, October 24th 2014
Southern Vancouver Islanders will soon see the return of the E&N Railway.
For several years, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have been lulled into a lack of vigilance, since most of us have not seen an operational passenger train for some time. That means chances of a rail crash, particularly at level crossings, will be much greater when the train returns.
Here are some things to seriously consider before passenger trains begin to travel again between major cities on the Island. Hopefully, there will be a chance to prepare and make the public more aware of the ever-present dangers posed by level crossings. Any time is train time.
In most every year since the Second World War, more people have been killed at train tracks than in airplane crashes. We don’t always hear about deaths in railway mishaps, because they happen all over the country in many more instances, but affect smaller numbers of people than when airplanes are involved. Except for catastrophic events such as in Lac Mégantic, Que., where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded, rail-crossing crashes seldom merit media coverage.
It’s hard to believe, but 25 per cent of drivers who hit a train actually hit the middle of the train. What’s even more mystifying is that the train could be moving or stationary at the time of impact.
There are some theories that may explain this odd statistic. Many drivers do not look up at elevated rail crossings, which may be difficult to see in foggy and snowy conditions. Many railway companies still have not put reflectors on the sides of their railcars.
Many drivers do not open their windows at railway tracks to hear what they may not be able to see, namely a train. Most professional drivers do this as a matter of habit prior to crossing railway tracks. All drivers should do the same.
The greater the number of control devices at railway crossing, the higher the crash rate, which seems unbelievable. Uncontrolled rail crossings see fewer crashes than those with warning lights, gates and advance-warning road markings.
When people are asked to estimate the speed of an oncoming train, they consistently guess a speed about half the train’s actual speed. This results in many drivers, pedestrians and cyclists attempting to race the train to the crossing.
When threatened by a train bearing down on a disabled vehicle on the tracks, people run away from the train, instead of running toward the train at a 45-degree angle so as not to be hit by flying debris.
It takes 18 football fields to stop a train travelling at 90 km/h. Trains can’t take evasive action to avoid a crash. It’s up to us to be more aware of the increased frequency of passenger-train travel in our communities.
Those who have lobbied and worked so hard to reinstitute passenger rail travel on Vancouver Island should be congratulated. The more people who travel by train, the fewer vehicles on the road at peak travel times. Tourism is enhanced when train travel is a viable option.
Whenever I speak with veteran railroaders, they warn of the increased likelihood of death and serious injury when passenger train travel is re-introduced after a long absence. Let’s not make the same mistake here on the Island. A significant public-safety education program should accompany the return of the trains.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is the former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.
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