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Mobile, Alabama

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Train crossing safety up for debate

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An interesting article from The Decatur Daily addresses the need for crossing gates at railroad crossing, and the lack of action from the roilroad companies.

The columnist points to the recent death of a man in Limestone County, who died after being hit by a train while operating farming equipment. If there had been an automated gate to warn him of the train, this man’s life would have been spared. The crossing where he was killed still does not have a crossing gate.

The columnist gets to what he believes is the heart of the problem.

Johnny Harris, chief of Division 1 of the Alabama Department of Transportation, said funding for crossing guards is limited and comes entirely from taxpayer funds.

“Their position,” Harris said of the railroads, “is we were here first. You’re crossing us; we’re not crossing you.”

Railroads are happy to install crossing gates, Harris said, provided someone else pays for them.

“Strict liability” is a liability scheme in which the defendant must pay damages for an accident even if it was blameless. It may offend our concept of fairness, but it provides economic efficiencies. By shifting the cost of a social goal — avoidance of death — to a profit-seeking entity, it harnesses the market’s powers of risk assessment and innovation. It also, of course, increases that entity’s costs.