The following is a idea that came to me after watching the Operation Lifesaver commercials for a period of several weeks while recuperating from an accident in 1998. The following sketch is rough, however, the text along with it gives a good description of the idea and what is meant. I have recreated all of the text in the first image below it with a larger font for easier reading. Email me with your thoughts and opinions. Constructive criticism is welcomed.
Airbags- steadily increasing in density and weight. Lighter objects such as humans will be cushioned by an actual cushion of air (with exhaust in the rear like Hollywood stunt airbags they jump from high places and land on). The concept is whether it is a 100 lb. woman or a 2-ton truck, it will stop at some point, with the least amount of impact possible. If the train hit the 100 pound woman at 20 miles a hour, she may only get through layer A. If she got hit at 60 however, she may go all the way to layer C, whereas a 2 ton truck would be guaranteed to make it to layer D; irregardless, final layers of airbags prevent actual contact with the locomotive. If they are spun around up to the side of the locomotive, side panels on locomotive prevent the vehicle from being thrown up under train. Like bumpers on a bumper car, vehicle is thrown back away.
Other electronic options in mind in conjunction with work being done by Operation Lifesaver would bring train safety closer to the 21st century.
High-intensity red and white strobes and fire-engine style lighting and engine horns will make people think a UFO is coming down the tracks. Although noise may be a issue at some locations with horns, I envision a horn system that is activated at high-intensity when a large object is detected on the tracks and used at regular or diminished capacity otherwise. The inclusion of high-intensity lights may alleviate some of the need for loud horns at all times, making the train more visible. At multi-track intersections, large security-style rounded mirrors might offer vehicles more of a view. From there car safely off the tracks they could look all the way down all tracks via large mirrors such as this. Currently a single or several white beams on the front of the train do not cause the more intense panic generated in humans by red lights. The airbag portion of this is not accurate as to my current thoughts on primary design. However, experts in the field of airbags and engineering can figure out the rest past the general concept. The recent launch of the rover on the surface of Mars will lend some very current information regarding airbag use and activation. NASA used a giant set of airbags to land the rover on the surface.) I envision something similar to a three-headed punching bag on the front that will direct them away from the train or pull them into the impact reduction system.
Train Hits SUV - 11 Killed - 170 Injured - January 26, 2005, Glendale, CA
Recently on a Railroad forum I saw a Engineer Trainee or Junior Engineer commenting on this concept in jest about it being a bad idea in general, but he finished his comment with something to the effect "Those dumb asses just need to keep their cars off the tracks." A few months ago a suicidal man in California parked his car on the tracks as a train was approaching. He got out before the SUV was struck, but he left the SUV behind. The SUV actually derailed the train causing a horrendous crash. So this may not be as funny to them now. The article about the crash follows. One noteworthy thing in the article is that when trains encounter vehicles in the crossing area, the train just crashes and crushes the vehicle as it slides out of the way. In this incident the occupant of the vehicle drove down the tracks in excess of 30 yards from the crossing area, and when it was hit the vehicle locked in place.
Glendale -- It was pitch-dark outside the giant Costco a few minutes after 6 a.m. Wednesday when suddenly the workers inside heard a horrendous screech followed by what sounded like an enormous thunder clap.
"It's the train! It's the train!" someone shouted, and maintenance worker Ruben Landa, 43, rushed outside to see it "coming at me -- it looked like it was going sideways."
A southbound Metrolink commuter train hit an SUV and derailed, smashed into the locomotive of a sidelined freight train and as it jackknifed was hit by an oncoming northbound commuter train. Eleven people died, and more than 170 passengers were injured.
"It looked like slow-motion," said Landa. "This giant locomotive got blown off the track on its side right in front of me, and the train split open and kept rolling into this other train coming right at it, and they all derailed."
The terrifying scene apparently was caused by a 25-year-old Compton man, described by Glendale police as deranged and suicidal. Investigators believe he drove his Jeep Cherokee up onto the tracks in an effort to kill himself, then lost his nerve at the last moment and abandoned the SUV as the train approached.
It was the worst U.S. rail tragedy since March 15, 1999, when an Amtrak train hit a truck and derailed near Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.
About 50 passengers were treated for their injuries at the scene and released. Another 120 were taken to 13 local hospitals for treatment.
The Associated Press reported the dead included Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy James Tutino, 47, whose flag-draped body was saluted by law enforcement officers and firefighters as it was carried from the wreckage.
The Compton man, Juan Manuel Alvarez, was being held in the Glendale jail and, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, is likely to be arraigned Friday. "We are looking at a number of legal theories on what kind of charges might be filed," Cooley said.
The crash happened near a big shopping mall just north of Los Feliz Boulevard and about a quarter of a mile east of Interstate 5, not far from the Los Feliz Municipal Golf Course. Hours later, huge cranes were trying to clear the twisted, toppled and torn-apart commuter train cars, while officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies studied the wreckage.
Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said several things make the collision "a very, very unusual incident" in the history of train wrecks. Oaxaca said that in a normal train-versus-auto accident, the train hits the vehicle at a level crossing and simply bangs it out of the way, sliding it sharply across the roadway, and rarely is there even an injury to train passengers.
But in Wednesday's crash, Alvarez drove his SUV "some distance onto the track, and that changes the dynamic. Once the car is on the track, away from the level crossing, it is probably locked into place -- the wheels get caught in the (railroad) ties. Basically, it's an immovable object. That's what we feel may have happened today."
"That, combined with a (second) train coming from the other direction," he said, makes it "the perfect storm of a train incident."
Officials at Metrolink, which has been operating the commuter rail system over some 450 miles of track in the Los Angeles region since 1992, said they won't know the cause of the crash until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation.
Police investigators said Alvarez, apparently a transient after becoming estranged from his wife, drove down the train tracks after first gaining access from an unspecified "at-grade" crossing.
"We'd be happier with fewer grade crossings," Metrolink chief spokesman Steve Lantz said, "but it's an expensive solution."
The only way to keep the trains away from cars is to have the tracks go above or below the highways and city streets, the way BART works, for example. In Wednesday's crash, however, the issue of grade crossing was eliminated almost immediately.
"You can't blame the grade crossings or anything else," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said. "This was a stupid, senseless crime, and you can't stop someone who was determined to do something like this."
Costco workers, the first on the scene, did their best to get the injured passengers away from the train and from 5,000 gallons of burning diesel fuel that was leaking from the locomotive.
Landa said he ran outside as other Costco workers grabbed fire extinguishers from the big warehouse store and followed him toward a breach in a nearby fence, where the locomotive was on its side.
As he leaped through the fence, Landa said, he saw passengers climbing out a gaping rip in the side of a commuter rail car. They were illuminated by the only light available -- the fire from the locomotive's spilled fuel.
"I heard this guy moaning and I grabbed him by the shoulders and started to pull him out," Landa said. A less injured passenger picked up the man's feet and together they got him out. Landa said he saw at least two of the dead passengers -- one had been thrown from the commuter train and landed on top of the locomotive. Costco receiving department clerk Hugo Moran, 34, said that when he rushed outside he saw a passenger on top of one of the commuter cars. The man wanted to jump and asked the Costco workers to catch him, but they yelled back at him, telling him not to jump and instead persuaded him to slide down the damaged car until he could make a shorter leap to safety.
Another passenger wasn't so fortunate. Moran said he heard someone inside a car shouting, "Help," and he and another Costco worker ran into the damaged train and found an elderly man pinned in the wreckage, his face burned. As he was being pulled out, the man said, over and over, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." Then he said, "Pray for me." A short time later, he was silent, and Moran said he later saw him covered with a white sheet.
The Associated Press quoted court documents in which Alvarez's estranged wife claimed he had threatened her and her family and threatened to abduct the couple's 3-year-old son, although he never physically assaulted her.
According to a request for a temporary restraining order that was granted last month by a Los Angeles judge, Carmelita Alvarez said her husband "is planning on selling his vehicle to buy a gun and threatened to use it.
"He is using drugs and has been in and out of rehab twice," she said in court papers.
The court ordered Alvarez to stay away from his wife.
One of the survivors of the crash, passenger Paul Konkirati, 28, of Burbank, told the AP that he was in a front rail car that broke in two.
"I felt the train sliding, so I braced myself and put my foot on the chair next to me and held onto a bar. We hit, and then somebody's head landed on my thigh."
Konkirati, his jeans covered in blood, said he tried to comfort the woman, "then it got really smoky, so smoky that I had to leave. I don't know what happened to her."
SECOND ARTICLE - TRUCK AND TRAIN WITH DERAILMENT
March 15, 1999 In the third of such incidents at the crossing, the northbound Coast Starlight train traveling between Los Angeles and Seattle collided with the back of a tractor-trailer. The crossing is on a private road leading to a pallet factory near Salinas, California.
The 12-car train, headed by two locomotives was traveling at about 50mph when the collision occurred. The trailer, loaded with pallets was destroyed, but the cab was undamaged. The driver escaped injury. Both locomotives and 10 of the passenger cars were derailed and came to rest on the hard shoulder of US 10. Fifteen passengers and crew were slightly injured, a number of them requiring hospital treatment.
Dallas Texas, October 10, 2005: Train strikes pickup truck slipping past crossing gates, killing driver and seriously injuring man and infant in truck also:
A woman was killed and two others were injured Monday afternoon after a pickup truck that edged around the railroad crossing arms was struck by a passenger train in Grand Prairie, officials said.
The woman, a man and an 18-month-old girl were in a Ford Ranger pickup when it collided with a westbound Texas Eagle Amtrak train at the Southwest 19th Street intersection, said Mike Sieg, assistant chief for the Grand Prairie Fire Department.
The woman, who was driving, was pronounced dead at the scene. The adult passenger suffered serious head and internal injuries and was taken to Methodist Hospital in Dallas, while the baby was flown to Children's Medical Center, Sieg said.
The victims' names were not immediately available.
Witnesses told officials that the pickup truck had driven around the crossing arms, Sieg said.
None of the train's passengers were injured and the train sustained minimal damage, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak. The train had left Chicago on Sunday, stopped in Dallas at 1:48 p.m. Monday and was headed to Fort Worth, he said.
The train will be delayed until local authorities allow it to continue to its destination, Magliari said.
UPDATE: Husband in accident above also died of head injuries shortly after this happened. Additional information about this situation and a new method to prevent this type of thing from happening follows:
Railway changes might have prevented deaths
09:06 AM CDT on Wednesday, October 12, 2005
By KATHY A. GOOLSBY / The Dallas Morning News
GRAND PRAIRIE – If a two-year-old plan to create a "quiet zone" throughout the city had been in place, a Grand Prairie couple killed at a railroad crossing Monday might still be alive.
A quiet zone would silence train horns within city limits and require upgraded safety features at all railroad crossings that would make it practically impossible for a vehicle to cross the tracks when the crossing arms are down.
Veronica Sillas, 27, of Grand Prairie died instantly when the Ford Ranger pickup she was driving was struck by a westbound Texas Eagle Amtrak passenger train going about 60 mph. Mrs. Sillas had driven the truck around the crossing arms at Southwest 19th Street and stopped on the tracks, apparently to observe an eastbound freight train, according to police.
The midafternoon collision propelled the truck about 50 yards, and Mrs. Sillas' husband, Joe Sillas, 31, was ejected from the vehicle. He died at 5:35 p.m. Tuesday from head injuries at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
The couple's daughter, 11-month-old Esmerelda Sillas, was strapped into a child safety seat in the center of the truck. She suffered head injuries and was taken by CareFlite to Children's Medical Center Dallas, where she was listed in critical condition Tuesday.
Grand Prairie began pursuing plans for the quiet zone in October 2003 after receiving numerous complaints from residents and business owners along the tracks about the loud train horns, said Jim Sparks, the city's transportation director. To qualify for a quiet zone, either a 6-foot-wide median or a four-quadrant crossing arm system must be installed at all crossings.
"If a train is, say, a quarter-mile away, all four gates go down and there's no way to drive around," Mr. Sparks said.
"But if for whatever reason a car is on the track and a train's coming, the exit gate will stay up so they can get off the track."
The city wants to install four-quadrant gates at several crossings, including those at Southwest 19th and Southwest 23rd streets, he said. Those crossings are less than 100 feet from traffic signals along Jefferson and Main streets.
Mr. Sparks estimates that installing the upgraded gates would cost $380,000 per crossing.
The city has funds for the gates at Southwest 19th Street and Southwest 14th, but because the latter will be included in the State Highway 161 construction, Mr. Sparks is hoping to divert that money for an upgraded gate at Southwest 23rd Street.
The money was obtained through the North Central Texas Council of Governments' Railroad Crossing Reliability Partnership program, which distributed $8.9 million to Collin County and 10 North Texas cities, including Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Grand Prairie and Plano, said Gregg Royster, principal transportation engineer with the council of governments.
The money is earmarked for railroad crossing improvements, including gates, flashers, raised medians and warning signs, Mr. Sparks said. The cities pay 20 percent of their project's cost, and federal money covers the remaining 80 percent.
Medians, which can be used only at crossings at least 100 feet from traffic signals, would be used at the remaining crossings in Grand Prairie. The non-mountable medians are built between lanes entering and exiting the crossing to prevent vehicles from moving into the adjacent lane to get around the safety arm.
Mr. Sparks hopes to have the quiet zone in place by summer 2007. The city plans to submit its plan to the Federal Railroad Administration next month. It would also have to be approved by Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks.
"It's just a long, slow process," said Dane Stovall, a senior traffic engineering technician with the city.
Guy Godfrey, railroad program coordinator for the Texas Department of Transportation, visited the Southwest 19th Street crossing last week to help assess whether a four-quadrant crossing arm would work.
In the meantime, vehicles can easily maneuver around the safety arms, as happened Monday. It's a major problem in Grand Prairie, police say.
"We typically will catch between 50 and 100 violators every time we do a concentrated railroad enforcement detail," Grand Prairie police Sgt. Eric Hansen said. "I cannot echo enough the importance of obeying railroad signals."