Recent national incidents have put increased attention on safe commuting and what passengers can do to protect themselves during a transit emergency.
“The most important tip anyone can follow is to wait for the instructions of the crew,” said Scott Sauer, chief system safety officer for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). “Crews know the equipment best and have been trained to safely remove passengers from vehicles should the situation warrant evacuation. Employees are also in touch with their agencies’ Control Centers and can have emergency responders dispatched to the scene and, if needed, power cut from the electrified third rails.”
RELATED: Metrolink train collides with truck, derails
If the crew is unable to assist passengers, then riders will need to take action. “Railcar emergency exit doors and windows are clearly marked with directions on how to safely open them,” said Sauer.
If the incident is contained to one car, passengers should move to the next car. If at a station, passengers should evacuate to the platform. If the incident occurred in a tunnel, passengers need to walk to the nearest station or emergency exit and get above ground as soon as they can.
“It is possible that riders will have to exit into the track area, but they need to be aware that there could be adjacent tracks,” said Sauer. “Only after you have checked to make sure there is no oncoming train, should you carefully walk over the tracks and away from the train as quickly and safely as possible.”
In addition to tips for transit riders, there are precautions motorists should take when driving near train tracks and around grade crossings.
“When the warning signals sound and lights indicating that the gates are closing FLASH, drivers should not speed up and try to pass under the crossing gates,” said Sauer. “There are markers on the road that indicate the safest distance from the grade crossing vehicles should be stopped when the gates are down.”
Sauer advises that, if a driver does get stuck on the tracks and a train is coming, the first instinct should be to get out of the vehicle immediately and move from the auto at a 45-degree angle away from the tracks and in the direction the train is coming. This will avoid being hit by possible debris caused by an impact. “If the gates come down on top of a car, the driver should keep going, if possible,” said Sauer. “The gates will break off and allow a vehicle to get off of the tracks.”
An example of SEPTA's emergency signage showing railcar emergency exits.
If car gets caught at a crossing and there is no train coming, drivers should get all passengers out of the vehicle and call the phone number found on the gates or in the area of the gates at every grade crossing in the country.
RELATED: Metro-North 'third rail' is a focus of crash inquiry
“The phone number will alert the transit agency to a vehicle being trapped on the tracks and allow crews to stop trains traveling in the area. Drivers can also call 9-1-1 to alert emergency responders to the situation so that rescue can be dispatched immediately,” said Sauer.
“By keeping these simple guidelines in mind when commuting on mass transit or traveling in the vicinity of train tracks, the public is taking an important step in protecting themselves and others,” Sauer added.
Years ago, I was with Louie Maiello when someone walked over and asked him for some advice: “We’re having problems with people remembering to secure the bus before they leave their seat. Do you have any advice? How can we get them to remember?” Without missing a beat, Louie said “PIN it.” The advice seeker happened to be a veteran mechanic, so he understood and walked away to resume his work. I stood there for a while scratching my head. Pin it?
Diagnose, Prescribe & Follow-Up, are the usual doctor’s actions that are utilized when visiting the doctor’s office for whatever is ailing us. This formula should also apply within your training department with regard to the ailment of Bus Collisions.
If we encourage our operators to treat operating a bus as a shift-long Zen moment, we may be able to reduce preventable crashes by a significant amount. The “Zen Operator,” who drives precisely at all times, is also less stressed. The Zen Operator flows through difficult, tight situations easily and their body language and vibe give passengers a sense of confidence. The operator whose passengers have a white-knuckle death grip on the back of the seat in front of them is not practicing “Zen Bus Operation.”
Ah, summer. Pool parties, barbecues, the smell of honeysuckle and the sight of lightning bugs. Or — a rise in crime, agitated riders seeking air conditioning, heat stroke, a new fiscal year, and the necessary, but unpopular, fare increases. However you view the summer months, with a direct correlation between high temperatures and increased crime, it's vital for transit leaders to be asking themselves, "Have we done everything possible to keep our people safe?"
The RMS occurred last month in Albany, N.Y. and it was a truly remarkable learning experience for those in attendance. The RMS serves as a one-of-a-kind event that brings together transit risk management professionals from all across the country to focus on key topics related to safety, risk management, planning and prevention.