What should people do if their cars are stuck on railroad tracks with a train rushing toward them?.
It’s a terrifying question, but on Wednesday, the day after a Metro-North Railroad train barreled into a sport-utility vehicle in Valhalla, N.Y., killing six people, safety experts emphasized some best practices.
Rule number one, of course, is get as far away from the tracks as possible. But some experts say there is a particular direction you should try to run: Away from the tracks at a 45 degree angle, in the direction from which the train is coming.
“That actually means run toward the train,” said Joyce Rose, president of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education group. “I know it seems counterintuitive, but this is to avoid being hit by flying debris. When you run toward the train, you run away from the site of the potential collision.”
According to the most recent annual data from the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2013, 142 people were killed and 733 were injured when trains crashed into motor vehicles.
While commuter trains are designed to stop and start frequently, freight trains, which are generally much heavier and longer, can be even more dangerous, experts say, because they can take nearly a mile to come to a full stop, even when the emergency brake is thrown.
“A freight train hitting a car is like a car hitting a can of pop, it’s a huge mass difference,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council. “But just because commuter trains can stop more quickly doesn’t mean they can stop before they actually hit you.”
Of course, the safest possible scenario is not to be in that situation at all. Safety advocates emphasize that drivers sitting in traffic, for example, should be sure there is enough room to clear the tracks before they move forward, rather than staying on the tail of the car in front just because the light is green.