Why teaching train safety is so important to me

By Kristin Brands
In 2007, I became a certified Operation Lifesaver (OL) volunteer. Kansas OL Executive Director Darlene Osterhaus encouraged me to do so, saying northwest Kansas needed more representatives to pass along the organization’s message Operation Lifesaver encourages pedestrians and drivers alike to be aware of at-grade railroad crossings, and utilize safety precautions near train tracks. OL volunteers reach out to adult drivers, professional drivers, school bus drivers, law enforcement personnel, and school-aged children. One of the many key OL messages is “Look, Listen, and Live!”
In 2007, my son Foster was three years old. His entire world then (and still does) revolved around trains. It all started with the lovable character of Thomas the Tank Engine, the character created by Rev. Wilbert Awdry in 1945. But Foster‘s fascination with trains quickly graduated from those toy trains and tracks strewn about our living room floor to the “real deal.” An austere train whistle always meant a dash to the car in search of whether or not the oncoming train was barreling down one of two sets of tracks near our small town of Almena: the Kyle Railroad or the NCK Railway Through the window of the vehicle, Foster and I would sit and watch those massive beasts pass by, my son’s eyes as big as those rail cars’ wheels.
What I didn‘t know then is that being in awe of those huge rail cars comes with a firm set of responsibilities. Being on or near any set of tracks is considered trespassing on the railroad’s private property. More importantly, being near those train tracks is just not safe. Thus the simple message to school children when talking about being near a set of railroad tracks is “Stay Off, Stay Away, Stay Alive!”
There is so much information to pass along to school kids under the OL railroad safety message. Children are especially drawn to the two OL mascots, Sly Fox and Birdie. When doing the OL presentation for Foster‘s class (now an annual tradition) he helps me with the giant set of visuals. He takes pride in the fact that “Mom knows cool stuff about trains,” and can now share those tidbits with his classmates. While it is cool to stay away from train racks, it is not cool to throw things at trains or place items such as coins on the tracks. And isn‘t this a cool fact? It takes roughly 5,280 feet for the average, fully loaded freight train to completely stop--the length of 18 football fields. Also not cool: a train CANNOT swerve to avoid hitting a car or pedestrian: That is why it is up to us to avoid their path of travel
Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit group of volunteers who present the railroad safety message in all 50 states. If passing their message along can help save even one life--including my son’s--well, that is definitely cool!
Go to www.oli.org for more cool train safety facts; or find out how you too can become an OL volunteer.

Kristin Brands is a Public Affairs Manager for KDOT.

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