Friday, December 9, 2022

Running risks at a railroad crossing

 I came very near dying, and being responsible for the death of my wife, at a railroad crossing in Fort Lauderdale. 

Luck, and my wife, saved us, in the seemingly most casual way. How banal life and death encounters can seem, when they occur! 

Lately our local high-speed rail operator, Brightline, has upgraded railroad crossings to increase safety as a disturbing number of motorists and pedestrians fall victim to collisions with its fast moving passenger trains. Despite the death toll, the railroad plans an increase in speed, to 110 miles per hour in some areas. 

In preparation they've added additional arms across each railroad crossing, to discourage drivers from swerving around the guard arms trying to "beat the train." 

I've tended to side with the railroad on the issue of crossing safety. What more can it possibly do, if motorists are determined to chance death in front of a fast train? 

Ride with me, here, as we approach the crossing of the railroad tracks on Northeast 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale.

The crossing lights begin flashing and making their "dinging" sound. I hit the brakes but, conscious that there may be traffic close behind me, I brake too gently and don't come to a complete stop until I am adjacent to the crossing gate.

Realizing that the arm will come down on my car, I look behind. Mercifully, the following vehicle, an SUV, has left me room to back. up. I put my car into Reverse but have only just begun to move when the crossing arm karate chops my trunk with a clunk.

I consider ramming through the arm to get farther away from the tracks, but I see that there is room between the front of my car and the tracks. Is it enough? But I've already waited too long, and the southbound Brightline train snaps in front of me at, maybe, 60 mph.


Well, that was close.

But now it appears that I can proceed out of my unfamiliar position on the wrong side of the crossing arms. I  put the car in gear and might have proceeded forward except that my wife said:

"You know it's always possible there will be another train in the other direction..."

And sure enough: SWOOSH! A northbound Brightline train snaps past my windshield! If I had not waited that instant to hear what she had to say, and instead let off the brakes and gone forward, we would certainly have been killed.


Men: listen to your wives.

In general, I conclude that the high-speed railroads have not in fact succeeded in making crossings fully safe for drivers. I now realize it is not always just the "idiots" trying to beat the train who end up in harm's way.

Watch again how it happened to me:

I hit the brakes when the lights flashed, but it was too late and I came to a stop beside the crossing gate.

I put the car into Reverse, but it was too late and the crossing arm came down across my trunk.

I considered pushing back on the crossing arm, but it was too late and the southbound train came through.

I considered proceeding across the tracks, but a casual warning from my wife caused me to pause for an instant and a previously unseen northbound train came through.

Drivers approaching rail crossings need to view them as representing all the lethality they do, in fact, possess. 

Assurances that railroad crossings are perfectly safe unless abused are baloney. Crossings remain dangerous and they deserve the respect they in fact demand.

Be on guard.


  1. Double track crossings have caught more than one person out. Fortunately, you learned...and will never do that again.

  2. Kevin Mahoney12/10/2022

    Royal Enfield solved this problem long ago.

  3. Whew... Tamar and I are thankful you're okay!


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