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Transportation & Infrastructure

Train-vehicle crashes increase in 2014

Tamar Charney
Michigan Radio

Twelve people died in collisions between cars and trains in Michigan last year. 

That's a big increase from last year, when three people were killed in such collisions.

Sam Crowl is with Michigan Operation Lifesaver, a railroad safety group.

He says one issue may be that some trains now travel as fast as 110 miles per hour.

"It's hard to tell how fast that train's traveling when it's coming right at you," says Crowl. "It will clear the crossing in less than a minute. So there's no reason to try to take a chance to beat the train and get killed."

Crowl says distracted driving may also be increasing the accidents. He thinks many people are talking on cell phones and driving with headphones on, which increases the risk they may not see or hear the trains.

Crowl acknowledges the economy itself is probably a factor. There are simply many more trains criss-crossing the state hauling goods, because the economy has improved.

He says unlike other kinds of car accidents, it's not the very young drivers who are most likely to drive around a barrier and get in an accident with an oncoming train.

The average age of people involved in the accidents is 40, and most of the time, it's a male driver.