Deadly crash is reminder of danger of rail crossings

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An accident in suburban New York that killed six people is one of thousands of rail incidents in the U.S.

Every three hours in this country a person or vehicle is hit by a train.

Last October in Mer Rouge, La., several people witnessed a violent collision, when a train plowed into a truck.

In 2014, there were 2,068 so-called highway rail incidents which killed 239 people. 87% of fatalities occur as a result of a driver's actions and poor judgement.

In Maitland, Fla., a woman narrowly escaped disaster last May when she jumped from a car that was right in the path of a train.

In December, also in Braintree, Mass., Karin Joy and her son Jake ran from their car seconds before impact. "I ran to the sidewalk, it maybe took me 20 seconds to get there and turn around and the train had hit my car," she said.

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More than 2,000 highway rail incidents took place in 2014. As many as 239 people were killed.

CBS News

Bad as it is, it is getting better. The number of collisions at crossings have actually dropped by 85% since 1978.

The Federal Railroad Administration credits improvements such as installing flashing lights and gates. There's also greater enforcement of laws requiring at least 20 seconds warning before a train reaches an intersection. Ultimately, improvements to the nation's infrastructure could help avoid collisions altogether.

Kathy Waters, a former executive at several major transit agencies is currently with the American Public Transportation Association.

"It would mean taking the road and elevating it or putting it under, or elevating the railroad track so they don't ever come together, she said.

There are more than 200,000 rail crossings in the U.S. Generally speaking highway traffic laws require drivers to stop between 15 to 50 feet away.