TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — When a 30-car freight train hits a passenger car, it’s like that car running over an aluminum pop can.
That’s what Indiana Rail Road, CSX Transportation and Indiana Operation Lifesaver emphasized Thursday during their “Officer on a Train” grade-crossing safety event to monitor how motorists obey crossing signals.
With a video screen set up in the front of a lounge car linked to a locomotive camera, a contingent of police officers and news media saw what a train engineer sees too often — motorists trying to decide whether or not to “beat” the oncoming train.
As the red Indiana Rail Road train traveled from its yard on North Fruitridge Avenue south to the Blackhawk area, police units strategically placed at crossings along the route watched for crossing violators.
Terre Haute Police issued only one ticket to an offending motorist, said Chief John Plasse, who rode along on the train with officers from the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana State Police, THPD and Indiana State University Police.
At Gross Road, deputies were stationed with Indiana Rail Road candy bars and informational brochures that they handed to motorists who stopped at the railroad crossing. Raising awareness of the dangers of trying to beat a train, or disregarding crossing signals, was one of the goals of the day’s event.
“Sixty-seven percent of all train-versus-car collisions occur where gates and guards warn of an oncoming train,” Jessica Feder, executive director of Indiana Operation Lifesaver, told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/14mgj0A ). “Those are not prevention devices. They are warning devices.”
On a related matter, Bryan Glover, CSX’s manager of community affairs and safety, said trespassing incidents are on the rise nationwide.
Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property, owned by the railroads, Glover said. Trespassers can be arrested and fined.
Indiana ranked seventh in the nation for trespassing fatalities in 2013, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration. Nationwide, 476 pedestrian rail trespass fatalities occurred in 2013. And about 70 percent of those deaths occurred in the 15 states of Indiana, Illinois, California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Washington, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
Indiana ranked fifth in the nation in highway-rail grade crossing collisions with 90 of the total 2,087 that occurred nationwide in 2013.
Indiana ranked fourth in highway-rail grade crossing fatalities with 15 of the 250 that occurred nationwide in 2013.
Indiana recorded 19 trespassing deaths and 19 trespassing injuries in 2013. That was 63 percent higher than 2012.
Glover gave police a run-down on train safety tips that the public should also know.
— Freight trains do not travel on a predictable schedule. And schedules for passenger trains change.
— Trains have the right of way 100 percent of the time — over ambulances, fire engines, cars, police and pedestrians.
— A typical locomotive weighs about 200 tons. When 100 railcars are added, the train can weigh about 6,000 tons.
— A train’s width may extend three feet or more outside the steel rail, making the safety zone well beyond the rails.
— Trains cannot stop quickly. A 100-car freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour will need more than a mile to stop once the train is set into emergency braking.
— The United States has more than 173,000 miles of railroad tracks.
Feder said that Vigo County has had several incidents involving pedestrians on train tracks in recent years. A particularly troublesome area is the Markle Mill Dam trestle and nearby areas of Otter Creek. People are often seen jumping from the trestles into the creek below, and that can be extremely dangerous, she said.
Anyone who sees people trespassing on railroad property is urged to notify police.
Operation Lifesaver also offers free rail safety presentations for groups to discourage trespassing and to educate motorists about grade crossing safety. Contact Indiana Operation Lifesaver through its website at http://www.inol.org or by calling 812-528-4327.
Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com
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