Our Opinion: Laws of physics apply to railroad safety

Avoiding vehicle-train collisions is all about laws.

Man-made laws are important, but much more important are the laws of physics.

Defying state laws may bring punishment; defying natural laws may mean death.

Union Pacific, a railroad that hauls much freight in the Midwest, has been conveying that message through a public awareness program that began more than four decades ago.

Since 1972, the program, Operation Lifesaver, has been expanded throughout the industry and the nation. And the number of lives saved cannot be calculated.

But, motorists and pedestrians still are injured or killed on railroad tracks.

People continue to walk on or along railroad tracks, which is particularly dangerous on railroad bridges that leave no avenue for escape.

And motorists and their passengers continue to be injured or killed at grade-level railroad crossings, both signaled and without signals.

Trains cannot steer away to avoid vehicles or people on the tracks. And the laws of physics have demonstrated, without exception, that freight trains require lengthy stopping distances.

“Loaded coal trains are usually about 15,000 to 20,000 tons,” railroad Supervisor Glenn Davis said during a recent excursion.

“Some trains out here are 14 thousand feet long (2.65 miles) and weigh 21,000 tons (42 million pounds),” Davis said. “It takes a long time to get those stopped.”

Operation Lifesaver’s website calculates the average stopping distance of a freight train traveling 55 mph at over one mile.

Motorists and pedestrians must use caution in proximity to or crossing railroad tracks.

The laws of physics demand it and your life may depend on it.

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