“As a locomotive engineer, I’ve been involved in collisions at railroad crossings,” said Randy Burns, locomotive engineer for Norfolk Southern Corp. and state trainer for Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety non-profit organization.
Burns said the one incident that stands out most in his mind is the same near miss that almost caused him to quit.
“I was the engineer on the train and had a school bus that went around the crossing gates,” he said. “I came so close I could see the terror in the kids’ faces. Fortunately it made it across. There was nothing I could do but put the emergency brakes on.”
Burns was part of a team including Operation Lifesaver volunteers, Norfolk Southern employees and Pell City police officers handed out rail safety pamphlets to motorists at the railroad crossings on 16th Street and 19th Street.
“We gave out 850 pamphlets in a three-hour period,” he said.
Burns said the safety event was one of several events sponsored by Operation Lifesaver and Norfolk Southern Corp. for Rail Safety Week.
“The United States and 40 countries are coordinating safety events for Rail Safety Week, corresponding with International Level Crossing Awareness Day, which is June 7,” he said.
Burns said the Operation Lifesaver slogan is Look Listen & Live. The trespassing slogan is Stay Off Stay Away & Stay Alive.
“We are starting to have more trespassers involved in train collisions than automobiles,” he said. “It’s on an increase.”
Burns said in Pell City there have been issues with high school students walking the tracks.
“The only legal place to cross tracks is at a public crossing,” he said.
Burns said trains look like they are moving more slowly than they are actually moving.
“Some people may try to beat the train,” he said. “I have near misses just about every couple days.”
Burns said most collisions happen when the train is going slower than 35 miles per hour.
“People just don’t realize that trains can’t stop quickly,” he said. “A 10-ton train moving at 50 mph will take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied.”
Burns said if a vehicle or person is on the tracks, by the time the locomotive engineer can see someone on the tracks it’s too late.
“Trains can’t swerve to avoid a collision,” he said.
Burns said a little more than half of collisions occur at crossings that have lights and gates.
“At 60 mph, a one-mile train will take one minute to pass,” he said. “If you are involved in a train collision, you are 20 times more likely to die than any other vehicle collision. Your life is worth more than the time a train takes to pass, even if it takes 10-15 minutes.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at email@example.com.