Keep away from railroad tracks, stay alive [Editorial]

The railroads have had a presence in Harford County since the dawn of the age of the steel rails in the 18th century.

Today, the two major lines on the East Coast still traverse the county from east to west. The trains are different than those of 150 years ago, but one thing that hasn't changed is they are still a danger to life and limb and to property.

The recent death of a 20-year-old Joppa man who was struck by a CSX freight train near the Joppa Farm Road crossing points up the sad and largely preventable incidence of train-related deaths in this and other places. Few years go by that someone isn't struck by a train in Harford County, and the results are nearly always fatal — and not to the train or its crew nor any passengers.

The CSX tracks which parallel Route 40 to the north are accessible to anyone and there are still a half a dozen grade level highway crossings from Joppa to Havre de Grace. Most of the CSX line has a top speed of 50 mph, plenty fast to seriously maim person or machine in the path of the railroad's 100 or more car freight trains, pulled by multiple-unit diesel electric locomotives.

Even though these trains are loud and appear to be lumbering along, you might be surprised to find out just how quickly they can rush up behind you if you aren't paying attention. And, even if the engineman sees you first, a train that large and heavy will take over a mile, probably longer, to come to a full stop.

Frankly, the tracks aren't a place to be around at anytime on foot, and vehicles crossing should always "stop, look and listen" as the traditional crossbuck signs warn those who approach. Only a fool with a death wish would try to beat an approaching train to the crossing, incidentially, because, again, the train will almost always win.

The local other line, owned by Amtrak and also used by Norfolk-Southern RR freights, parallels Route 40 to the south. Access is restricted by fences along the right-of-way, and grade crossings were eliminated years ago by highway overpasses and underpasses and by a pedestrian overpass near the Aberdeen station.

Amtrak's Acela passenger trains can reach speeds of 135 mph in Harford County and the slower regional passenger trains also can eclipse the 100 mph mark. Trust us when we say you won't see or hear one of these until it's too late to get out of the way, especially because there are two to three tracks on the line, and you won't have any idea which one the train is on. Even the freights, which mostly run at night, can reach speeds of 60 mph.

People still manage to get onto the Amtrak tracks and get hit and killed. Some train-related deaths are usually deliberate — people wanting to die — but others are the result of simple carelessness of being too close to the tracks or trying to take a shortcut across them.

All we can say is keep away and stay alive, which should be obvious.

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