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Oklahoma officials approve $100 million initiative to make railways safer for drivers

OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials say more than 2,400 railroad crossings in the state do not have rail crossing guards, which is a problem that is putting drivers at risk.

Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation want to change that to make it safer for Oklahoma drivers.

“Anytime you have a derailment itself, you know, that costs communities money. It’s a safety hazard and, of course, it’s not good for the traveling public itself, so this is a very important program for our state,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.

The $100 million safety initiative is the first of its kind in the state and will identify those rail crossings in need.

“This will allow us the opportunity to put in some arms and some signals that will better warn motorists that there is an impending train coming down the track,” Gov. Fallin said.

ODOT says it will take two to three years to complete.

A large portion of the funds needed for the project will come from the sale of the Sooner Sub rail line, which brought in $75 million.

“It’s important if we’re going to be moving freight or people that we keep them as safe as possible,” Jeff Van Schaick, assistant vice president of government affairs for Watco Companies, said.

That’s because it’s nearly impossible to stop a 250 ton locomotive.

“From the cab of a locomotive, I watched a mother with kids in her car race alongside the train trying to get to a grade crossing before we did,” Brenda Mainwaring, with South Union Pacific Railroad, said.

“Up until the very last second, it was not clear if she was going to stop that car with her kids or if she was going to make the worst decision of her life,” she said.

Mike Patterson, with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, says drivers need to do their part to stay safe.

He says a train conductor may not have the option to stop.

However, a driver should be able to hit the brakes before making it to the tracks.

Last year, there were eight people killed and 13 injured at Oklahoma rail crossings.