Oklahoma railroad crossings still prove dangerous

Monday, January 26th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The number of fatal traffic accidents at railroad crossings has declined, but trouble spots remain and transportation officials say drivers need to be more attentive to the danger at these intersections.

Three people have been killed in three accidents in recent years where a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway track, SE 29, Shields Boulevard and Walnut Avenue converge in southeast Oklahoma City.

West of Mannford in Creek County, on State Highway 48 about a mile north of State Highway 51, cars and pickups have plowed into the sides of trains three times in the past seven years and four times since 1978, each time causing death.

A railroad crossing near Guymon has seen eight accidents in the past seven years. Another Oklahoma City crossing has had 24 in the past 25 years.

Mike O'Keefe, chief deputy of the Creek County sheriff's office, said people need to pay more attention at railroad crossings.

``A lot of tragedies can be avoided,'' he said. ``State statutes require all school buses to come to a complete stop (at railroad crossings). That ought to tell you something.''

Joe Kyle, manager of the rail programs division of the state Transportation Department, calls such tragedies ``perplexing.''

``A lot of times, there's nothing to block vision,'' he said.

Kyle said 32 percent of Oklahoma's crossings have gates and/or lights, which is above the national average of about 25 percent. Still, he said, according to national statistics, about half of fatalities occur at crossings protected by gates and/or lights.

Kyle's division of the Transportation Department is responsible for administering a $3.2 million program to evaluate about 3,800 crossings across the state.

One of the more remote crossings will be evaluated soon. Between Fairland and Afton in Ottawa County, a county road crossing was the site of a double fatality when a couple's motor home was struck by a train.

The number of accidents and the number of fatalities have been declining markedly since at least 1977, which is the earliest year figures are available.

Kyle said the state had 259 total train/motor vehicle crashes resulting in 29 fatalities in 1977. In 2002, the state had only 69 crashes and 17 fatalities.

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