Norfolk Train Death: A Tragic Reminder About Railroad Safety

When 65-year-old Sylvester Young went for a truck drive yesterday, he had no way of knowing it would be his last ride. Hit by a train while trying to turn onto a private driveway, Young’s death was gruesome – and perhaps preventable. Bystanders think he was not aware he was in any danger. Even worse, the railroad crossing that killed him lacked railroad arms and warning lights, though there were warning signs.

Unfortunately, Young’s death is another symptom of the nationwide train safety crisis. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that of approximately 150,000 public-grade railroad crossings, only 35,000 have gates and 25,000 have flashing lights. A mere 1,000 crossings have traffic signals with flashing warnings and bells. That means that the vast majority of railroad crossings are unprotected – and that drivers and pedestrians have to be extra-careful when it comes to crossing railroad tracks.


Though only buses, tractors and trucks carrying explosive or hazardous materials are legally required to stop at train tracks, stopping at unmarked tracks to look both ways is always a good idea. You should also consider contacting your public officials and lobbying for better and safer railway crossings. Though railway crossings are usually under federal purview and maintained by train companies, poor maintenance or poor markings may be cause for a lawsuit.

Know the risk when you’re crossing those tracks – most freight trains take 1.5 miles just to come to a complete stop! Never pass other vehicles at a railroad crossing or race a train to cross the tracks. And teach your kids not to play on or near railroad tracks. Remember – your eyes and ears are your best helpers when it comes to crossing railroad tracks safely. Look both ways, listen for whistles or bells, and proceed with extreme caution. Trains run at all times of day and usually are going much faster than you think. Next time you’re crossing the tracks, respect their mass and the danger they present to people like Sylvester Young. Your life could depend on it.

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