Mt. Vernon Register-News

May 1, 2014

Riding the rails to Ina

By RICK HAYES rick.hayes@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — Several Jefferson County residents took advantage of a public outreach initiative hosted by Union Pacific Railroad on Wednesday.

“This is a UP Cares safety train where we ask for community and business leaders to come out and ride with us and be able to see from the perspective of being on the train. It’s what we consider the 360-view of the railroad,” said Kevin Dawson, manager of public safety for Union Pacific Railroad. “Instead of just looking at it from the ground up we want them to be on the train looking out and be able to share some of the safety information about railroad crossings, talk about the laws regarding railroad crossings and we’re also speaking about trespassing.”

Dawson said railroads are private property and walking down the tracks is illegal.

Chip Pew, coordinator of the state’s Operation Lifesaver program established in 1976, said trespassing is one of the state’s largest problems.

“Those killed trespassing are not killed at crossings, but on the tracks or on the edge of the tracks on the trusses, which are no safer than the center of the tracks,” Pew said.

Operation Lifesaver is designed to increase public awareness of highway-rail grade crossing hazards and improve driver and pedestrian behavior at these intersections. In conjunction with its educational phases, Operation Lifesaver emphasizes engineering improvements, including the installation and upgrading of grade crossing warning signals and signs, and the enforcement of existing traffic laws.

“We’re hoping the folks that ride the train will be able to take that information out on a 365-day rotation using whatever information means they have to tell people themselves about the dangers trespassing and obeying the law at railroad crossings,” Dawson said.

“If people aren’t where trains are, we have no incidents,” added Pew, who said there are about 100 fatalities annually in Illinois, and at least one every two weeks.

Highway-rail crash statistics for 2012 indicate Illinois had 89 crashes at public crossings. Twenty-five people were killed and another 34 seriously injured. Illinois has over 7,300 miles of track with 7,780 public crossings and 4,536 private crossings.

On Wednesday, about 50 community members had the opportunity to ride on a passenger train from Mt. Vernon to Ina, given information from Dawson and representatives from Operation Lifesaver.

At 55 mph, it takes a car approximately 200 feet to stop, a bus 230 feet, a semi 300 feet, a train about 600 feet and a high-rail train 5,280 feet, according to statistics provided.

Motorists should never go around cross arms or lighted signal devices, and officials stressed that “any time is train time.”