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Published on : Thursday, July 30, 2015
The train, operated by Norfolk Southern with Operation Lifesaver, a national rail safety public education organization, is stopping in eight cities on a three-day, 390-mile trip from Charleston, S.C., to Asheville, N.C.
“Pedestrians and drivers often do not realize how dangerous it is to walk on or near railroad tracks, or that it can take a mile or more for a train to come to a complete stop,” said Cayela Wimberly, Norfolk Southern director of grade crossing safety. “Our goal is to share information that will stop people from risking their lives by trying to beat a train to the crossing or using railroad tracks as a shortcut.”
Across the U.S. last year, 267 people died in highway-rail grade crossing incidents, an increase of 16 percent compared with 2013, and deaths due to trespassing on train tracks jumped 22 percent to 526, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.
In South Carolina, vehicle-train collisions resulted in three fatalities and 22 injuries during 2014, and in North Carolina five people died and 27 were injured.
Trespassing on or near railroad tracks resulted in five deaths and eight injuries in South Carolina last year, and in North Carolina 20 people died and 11 were injured.
“The use of cell phones, texting, and listening to music while driving has contributed to people being distracted from the roadway and the warning signs alerting them to railroad tracks,” said Janice Cowen, Operation Lifesaver South Carolina state coordinator. “People do not realize that it is criminal trespassing to walk on or near railroad tracks. Not only is it against the law, you could lose your life.”
The safety train includes two restored Pullman passenger rail cars with television monitors showing a live video feed from a camera mounted on the lead locomotive. Passengers see firsthand what engineers see every day from the locomotive cab. The train also includes the Norfolk Southern Exhibit Car, which showcases the benefits of rail freight transportation.
Invited guests include county and municipal elected leaders, state and local transportation officials, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, school transportation directors, trucking officials, news media, and others who have a vested interest in public safety.
South Carolina Highway Patrol officers are shadowing the train as it moves through the state, arresting violators at railroad crossings or walking along tracks.
Col. Mike Oliver of the S.C. Highway Patrol, speaking at an NS safety rally in Columbia Tuesday, said, “This is a great way to educate people across South Carolina about railroad safety. We believe one life lost on the roadways or railways is one life too many.”
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Sen. John Courson spoke at the rally, as well, thanking NS for bringing the safety train to the state and encouraging residents to use caution whenever crossing railroad tracks.
Aboard the safety train, riders are hearing firsthand about the dangers of trespassing on railroad property from Mark Kalina Jr., who survived a 2012 pedestrian-train incident in Ohio and is now a double amputee.
“Two years and nine months ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life. To save five minutes, I took a shortcut on the railroad tracks. Now I travel the country warning others never to make the same mistake,” said Kalina, who is the spokesperson for the Operation Lifesaver “See Tracks? Think Train!” safety campaign.
Whistle-Stop Safety Train Schedule:
Norfolk Southern also plans to run a safety train across Ohio Aug. 4-6. The 354-mile trip will start in Cincinnati and make whistle-stops in Dayton, Columbus, Bellevue, Cleveland, and Alliance.