If a “ghost train” story sounds scary, that’s because it is — but not for the reasons you might imagine. You can decide for yourself whether ghosts are real. If there are two sets of train tracks at a crossing and a train passes but the cross arms stay down, there may be a reason. Another train is likely coming from the opposite direction.
“People sometimes ignore the signals when a crossing has more than one set of tracks, and there is a train blocking part of the crossing,” says Fred Whitford, director of Purdue University Pesticide Programs. He notes that motorists assume the first train caused the arms to go down. They drive around the lowered gates only to be hit by another train going the opposite direction.
It’s known as the “ghost train scenario,” and it’s included in “Railroad Crossings: Stop, Look, Stay Alive,” a recent publication from PPP. Copies are available at edustore.purdue.edu, or download it for free.
Whitford included a true story in the publication that happened to me, involving a variation of the ghost train scenario. It occurred during an overnight interview trip to LaGrange and Steuben counties in Indiana, when my son, Daniel, was about 7 years old. The actual location of the railroad crossing is east of Waterloo in Dekalb County, just off the main highway. I’ve likely shared this story before, but here’s the version Whitford used, titled “I Just Saw a Ghost”:
“My last stop just after lunch was at a fertilizer branch. It’s located alongside a railroad track for shipping grain and bringing product in.
“My son and I turned off the main highway onto the county road that runs just east of the business. A double set of railroad tracks with warning lights and crossing gates is located on the county road near the state highway.
“As we approached, the arms were down, the lights were flashing, and a train passed, heading east. Once the train passed, I put the car in gear, assuming the lights would stop flashing and the gates would go up.
“They didn’t stop or go up. I waited what seemed like several minutes — it was maybe a minute. I was already late, as usual, for the appointment. Figuring the signals were stuck, I moved forward, preparing to angle my small car through the gates.
“Just then, my son screamed, ‘Daddy, stop! There’s a train.’
“I immediately looked back to the east. Sure enough, a train was headed toward us on the other track, headed west. I backed off the track on the road as the train passed.
“I gave my son a hug. Praise God he was with me!”
Field adds in this publication that not everyone who has a ghost train experience is as lucky. And he notes that half of all railroad collisions happen at crossings with warning devices. Like me, people simply ignore the warnings.
One of the tips offered in this new publication is to never cross the railroad tracks until the crossing arms are upright again. Don’t be like me, learning the hard way and tempting fate!
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