Beating The Train #levelcrossings

There are upward of 7,500 level crossings in South Africa. No country has the money to replace all of these with road bridges. Neither is it affordable pr even practical to fit all of these with automated booms as our expansive rural regions simply don’t have electricity all over. We have also seen that, at the Albertyn Road level crossing at Muizenberg, Cape Town, an obstinate truck driver tried to skip through the automated booms and practically ruined it, causing tremendous cost and discomfort to passengers, roughly for a year to follow.

Level crossings are fitted with signs, which every K52 or K53 driver will know is a STOP sign. If only vehicle drivers would be disciplined enough to heed to that.

On January 5, 2018, a truck driver tried to beat a train. Arrogance, ego, stupidity, lawlessness – and so far, it killed nineteen people and injured 254. A day later, motorists whined on social media because their municipality had set up a speed camera. Speed kills, period. Speeding across level crossings calls for a particular margin of sheer stupidity. You cannot beat a train, but you can do it and murder many in cold blood.

We grew up with level crossings and respected them with an acute reverence. That was fifty, sixty years ago.

The level crossings are still there, of necessity. To many, this is their only access route between home and the big world out there, even if your world doesn’t go beyond Rondomverskrik or Regtigverdwaal.

Relatives of my late grandmother’s were always very careful. In darkness, worsened by a thick fog, once looked left, then right, left again and slowly drove forward, straight into a stationary train! It remained a family joke, to repeat their conversation every time we encountered a railway crossing.

People are less careful nowadays. If one visits any of these level crossings, it is almost scary to see that most vehicles don’t even reduce speed, let alone STOP when the sign indicates so. Rules are there to protect and mischief leads to disaster.

The day before the accident, shown in the picture, had happened, a car hit an oncoming train at a level crossing in Cape Town. A week prior to the one depicted here, the very same train driver was part of a team raising awareness for road & rail safety at this very same level crossing. A month prior, I was a passenger on this very same train and saw, at this level crossing 1,100km away from home, how a father with his young children on board, sped towards the crossing to try and beat the train to it. Sheer arrogance, recklessness, to place one’s loved ones at such an unnecessary risk. The train is roughly five hundred metres long and moves at around 60km/h, so anyone needs only to wait a few seconds for it to pass. Why risk lives by trying to cross the railway line before the train does?

At the time of this accident, I was a passenger on another train and saw where a train had hit a stray pedestrian. The train did not swerve, as trains can’t – they are directed by the railway lines. As these rail tracks are meant for trains, best advice is to give them a wide berth. Two serious accidents in one day, caused by people disrespecting the rules of society. There is an adage that “rules are there to be broken” but this is false dogma and it can be fatal. As the stray pedestrian discovered much to his own destruction. As his body lay between the railway tracks, I could not but help to wonder how their loved ones would react to the sad news.

I told a friend about my experience earlier this morning and he then told me that his sister had died this way.

Lots is being said on social media about the Police needing to be more strict – why do we adults need cops to turn us into good citizens? If only we lived according to the official rules of society, this world would have been a better place. Why is it always someone else’s fault, never just our own?

Dice with death and your gamble may fail. I hope that your Last Will & Testament is in place and that your passwords are where your next-of-kin can find it.

Look for trains!