By Darlene Osterhaus
Each day when people drive to work, most don’t think to themselves, ”I hope I don’t kill someone today!” Locomotive engineers have to think that every working day Someplace in the United States approximately every 2 hours a collision occurs between a train and a vehicle, or a train and a pedestrian.
Some engineers are not able to handle the images and memories of what happened during these events and depart their railroad careers The media, of course, always tells the story about the person injured or killed What about the train crew? They must live forever with the harsh memories of a situation they had no control over.
I know a locomotive engineer that has worked for years for a railroad and has had several collisions with cars, trucks, a farm tractor, and a pedestrian All but one was a fatality He became involved with Operation Lifesaver (OL) to educate the public on the dangers of being around trains--the railroad’s private property He states, “The more incidents we can be prevented, the safer your communities will be, and at the same time reduce the tragic memories for my fellow co-workers.”
Imagine yourself in the engineer’s seat--you apply the brakes to keep from hitting someone or something--your heart skips a beat--it takes your breath away! Imagine that this drags out for more than a mile--can you hold your breath that long?
You hope for the best but expect the worst The train stops and you walk back to that location You never forget every sense that went through your mind You recall details of each collision as you travel the same tracks on your route.
There are incidents where trains and vehicles collide and the driver or passengers manage to survive. Those individuals have one common factor: They were all wearing seatbelts, children were in car seats, air bags deployed, and it was not a direct impact from the train The majority of railroad incidents are preventable if you are simply more aware of your surroundings You are 20 times more likely to die in a collision with a train than one involving another motor vehicle.
The biggest factor in the devastation of the collision is the weight of the train, not the speed Remember, comparing a train to a car is the same as comparing your car to a soda pop can; both pairs exhibit the same weight ratio of 4,000 to 1. Imagine an average college football player standing in the middle of the street and trying to tackle a dump truck. All locomotive engineers desire that you never meet “by accident.”
Please don’t become a statistic. In 2008, Kansas Operation Lifesaver statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration (www.fra.dot.gov) were:
Crossing Crashes: 44 crashes, 9 fatalities, 14 injuries
Trespass Incidents: 13 incidents, 4 fatalities, and 9 injuries
A total of 13 people died, changing the lives of family and friends forever They are all missed.
Operation Lifesaver (www.oli.org) is a nonprofit, public education and outreach organization dedicated to eliminating death and injury at railroad crossings and rights-of-way. Being a safe driver is common sense (www.commonsenseuseit.com). The Kansas Operation Lifesaver presenters give FREE presentations to any age group; to schedule, call (785) 296-7121 or email: Darlene@ksdot.org. Remember that “Any Time Is Train Time!” so “Always Expect A Train!”
Darlene Osterhaus is the Executive Director for Kansas Operation Lifesaver, Inc.