Police: Driver ignored flashing lights in car-train collision that injured 5

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Five people were injured when their car was struck by a Canadian Pacific train in Owatonna, and police believe the driver of the vehicle ignored flashing red lights at the railroad crossing, the Post Bulletin reports.

The crash happened shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday. The crossing – at State Avenue between Florence Avenue and North Street – has no stop arms on the tracks, according to the Owatonna People's Press. Police say the driver, a 30-year-old Fairbault man, disregarded the flashing red lights at the crossing and collided with the westbound train.

The driver along with four passengers between the ages of 20 and 24 were all injured in the crash, according to media reports. One of the passengers sustained a head injury and is listed in serious condition; three of the passengers were airlifted to a local hospital. No one on the train was injured, the People's Press said.

A spokesperson for the railroad said the bells and lights at the crossing were working properly.

"The train crew sounded the whistle and applied the train's emergency brake, but unfortunately was unable to stop," Andy Cummings, the railroad spokesperson, told the People's Press. "It can take a mile or more to come to a complete stop."

Collisions between trains and cars have been making headlines lately. Last week, police said a woman was hit and killed by a train after driving around railroad crossing arms in Independence. Last month, a man was killed after colliding with a train in northwest Minnesota.

The chance of death or serious injury from a motor vehicle-train crash is 11 times greater than for other highway collisions, the Minnesota Department of Transportation reports.

According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, 2,087 highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred in 2013. There were 251 fatalities. Of those, there were 53 collisions in Minnesota and six deaths, according to Operation Lifesaver, an organization that focuses on rail safety education.

Minnesota ranks 15th in the nation for highest number of highway-rail crashes, and 12th for fatalities and injuries resulting from these crashes, according to Operation Lifesaver.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation says people need to use common sense and heed railroad warning signs to avoid these types of accidents. While some people may not be familiar with highway-rail warning signs, "others simply ignore all warning signs because they are in a hurry. Driver ignorance and impatience are the most common factors contributing to motor vehicle, train crashes," MnDOT says on its website.

Officials said it's important to never try to beat a train at a railroad crossing – it’s hard to judge their speed and they appear to be moving slower than they actually are. Operation Lifesaver has published various safety tips regarding this issue.

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