Amtrak’s Silver Star runs daily in each direction between Miami and New York City. This past Saturday, the train hit a car near Orlando, Florida. Three young people, all in their 20s, were killed. A fourth person is in critical condition.
Their car drove past flashing lights and around the barriers at a grade crossing. Later, investigators noted that the car’s speedometer was stuck at 55 miles per hour. Those kids had absolutely no chance when struck by a train weighing 4,000 times a much as their car. An Amtrak engineer once told me it would be comparable to running over a metal mailbox with your family car. No chance at all.
So we just have to write it off as one more stupid, useless, and entirely preventable grade crossing incident. (You can’t really call them ‘accidents’ because every one of them is avoidable.)
Last year, 338 people died in collisions like the one on Saturday. That’s darn near one a day! But, as bad as that is, it’s a big improvement. In 1976, the worst year on record, more than 1,100 people were killed at grade crossings. Since that time, a program called Operation Lifesaver, sponsored by the Association of American Railroads and Amtrak, has increased awareness and has clearly saved a great many lives. Those same railroads have spent many millions of dollars installing signs and lights and gates at thousands of additional crossings.
Of course none of that means a damn thing if people insist on trying to beat a train across the tracks. You just can’t save some folks from themselves.