Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Operation Lifesaver: Stop, Listen, Live

Photo: David S.Hutchinson

For about 40 years Operation Lifesaver has been spreading the word about railroad safety to the people of the United States. Incorporated as a one time state awareness campaign in 1972 for the state of Idaho.  As a result of the Operation Lifesaver campaign, grade crossing-related fatalities dropped by forty-three percent and the campaign spread all over the country reaching all fifty state and creating a national office.

The non-profit organization is set on offering free classes and presentations that will help educate the public on how to prevent collisions, deaths, and injuries on and around railroad tracks. According to their website, Operations Lifesaver  says that a person or vehicle is struck by a train about every three hours.  

Photo: Bernard Cole II
Operation Lifesavers Maine office has created an interactive caboose to help promote rail safety in their state. The photo to the left shows the caboose at the Pan Am Railways maintenance yard in Waterville, Me. Rail service is on the rise in Maine and with that more serious injuries and deaths have occurred due to people being unaware a train was coming.

A good example of this took place a few years ago. A man was fishing in Belgrade on a small railroad bridge which was considered a local fishing "hot spot". This man had fished there for many years knowing that this was an active railroad and that he was trespassing and risking his life, along with those of the other people he brought there. One day when a local frieght train went by, the draft from the train pulled him in from the edge of the bridge and sucked him in between two boxcars. Despite quick medical attention he later passed away. People take for granted that if you can't hear a train or see one that there is still danger.

Here in Massachusetts there are approximately 1,100 route miles of active track with 1,192 public crossings and 538 private crossings. Like the rest of the United States rail travel is on the rise here in the Commonwealth. While there are more trains traveling around the state, fatalities associated with track trespassing and crashes at grade crossing have remained low. Operation Lifesaver's Massachusetts office is set on keeping that figure low. The Commonwealth's office keeps a close relationship with all of the companies operating rail in the state. Most notably PanAm Railways, CSX Transportation, and of course the MBTA and MBCR. They are also affiliated with the Massachusetts trucking industry. 
Photo: Kevin Burkholder 

The MBTA and MBCR have both had long standing relationships with Operation Lifesaver to better help them promote safe and reliable service on the rails. Members of the MBTA Transit Police, MBCR conductors, engineers, and other employees are all certified O.L. presenters and regularly hold public information secessions. Most notably, the MBCR's Safety Department sends out railroad safety tips and presentation invitations to area schools that the commuter rail serves. 

This past September two MBCR employees paid a visit to a group of daycare children who regularly visit the local commuter rail station to wave at passing trains! Stephen Quinn who is Operation Lifesaver certified along with Fitchburg Line conductor Cory Moniz taught the children that being safe around railroad tracks is no joke. Although there has never been any incidences with the group of children at the station the employees felt that it was great for the children to learn the safety skills early on.

Numerous accidents have occurred throughout New England since July, 
truly demonstrating the need to get railroad safety information out to the general public. Most notably the Amtrak Downeaster grade crossing collision and several fatalities on the MBTA Commuter Rail lines. Most recently, last night a man was struck and killed by an Amtrak Northeast Regional train near Ruggles station on the Northeast Corridor. 

Operation Lifesaver is truly an organization that cares about the people of this country. As long as there are trains running through this country there will unfortunately be fatalities, but as long as O.L. is around we will hopefully be able to keep the number of them very low.

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