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Avoiding train-vehicle collisions comes down to simply following traffic signals

The Permian Basin has intersections close to railroad tracks where traffic can get backed up. Yielding to the train and not stopping on the tracks ensures safety.

ODESSA, Texas — On Wednesday, a train-vehicle collision happened in Midland, ultimately causing road closures. It’s a scary situation that has been a recent trend in the Permian Basin, but it can easily be avoided as it really comes down to drivers in West Texas simply following traffic signals. 

The area has several locations where train tracks are close to intersections, which can create dangerous situations if drivers position themselves poorly. 

“The bottom line is that always allow plenty of distance between your vehicle and the tracks," said Corporal Steve LeSueur, Public Information Officer for the Odessa Police Department. "Even if the light’s red and the train’s not coming, never park your vehicle over the tracks. There’s a reason why you have to stay back as far as possible.” 

Crossing train tracks can result in frightening situations, particularly at intersections in the Permian Basin where traffic backs up. 

“Don’t ever stop on the tracks," said Steven Blanco, a Sergeant with the Texas Department of Public Safety. "So, traffic backs up, they’re having to wait at the intersection for traffic to clear, they have their trailer on the tracks – or partially on the tracks – and they’re sitting there for several minutes at a time, and now, here comes a train. And they can’t go forward because traffic’s in front, they can’t back up, and now the vehicles on the tracks, resulting in a train-vehicle collision.” 

Drivers also try to beat the train to the intersection, which causes collisions as well. In West Texas, these types of train-vehicle accidents are more common. 

“Speaking with my partners at the railroad Union Pacific, this is one of their areas they have a lot of train-vehicle collisions – Midland-Odessa-West Texas area," said Blanco. "I think this is a situation that’s contributed to by the general poor driving that we see in West Texas.” 

Even if the crossing gates are up, it’s worth looking both ways just in case a train is coming. Paying attention to traffic signs and using caution will allow the area between railroad tracks and roadway to operate smoothly. 

“Always stop at those intersections when the crossing arms are lowered," said Blanco. "Do not drive around the lowered gates. Always follow the traffic signals, so, obviously, when a train is approaching those intersections, the red lights start flashing [and] the arms come down.” 

In the event of a driver's vehicle getting stuck on the railroad tracks with a train coming, the driver should abandon the vehicle, get to safety and call 9-1-1. The train always has the right-of-way, so when the railroad crossing signs activate, it’s on the driver to yield and keep everyone safe. 

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