X is for Railroad Crossing Sign
Just about anywhere in the world, you will find railway crossings. They are a sure sign of progress, or at least they used to be, in the United States. Now we have automobiles to ride in and roads on which to travel. Once upon a time, there were just railways to bring goods and carry people across vast distances. They opened up new territories to the settlers who built this country's small towns and big cities.
Those parallel lines--a sign of the changing times--laid across hills and valleys, tunneled through mountains, and suspended high above rivers and bays inspired writers like Stephen Crane to describe a special milieu. It was instantly recognizable to anyone who traveled by train and paid attention to what was happening around him. Certainly, majestic vistas caught the eye, but a sense of being hurtled into the unknown, which could be dangerous, was for many people also part of the experience. The old, familiar way of life appeared to be vanishing right before their eyes:
The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. Vast flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses, woods of light and tender trees, all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice... (Stephen Crane, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," first published in McClure's Magazine in 1898.)
Anymore, we don't usually associate trains with something bad happening like falling off a cliff since most of us rely on other modes of transportation. And therein lies a real danger. Is it a lack of sensibility or too much complacency that's the crux of a potential problem? Railroad crossings--where the modes intersect--and motorists who fail to pay attention to signs are not a good combination. It can't be that the warning signs aren't recognizable. They really haven't changed much over the years. A simple crossbuck or crux decussata (the Roman numeral ten) with the words "Railroad Crossing" clearly lets you know that there could be a train about to cross your path. You would be smart to stop, look, and listen for it, especially if there are no warning lights or mechanical arms descending to block your path.
It's estimated that a 150-car freight train traveling 50 miles per hour takes 1.5 miles to completely stop. So why do people ignore the warnings and take chances? I found an interesting site developed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) that chronicles with video some near-misses. Some of them will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. They'll make you wonder if those drivers got their licenses from Cracker Jack boxes.
Please visit A to Z Blogging Challenge for more "X's" posted by Challenge hosts and other writers.