Sunday, March 28, 1999

A lesson in safety: The train always wins

Hamilton holds railroad class

Enquirer contributor

        HAMILTON — Mary Franklin now plans to walk the extra block-and-a-half to properly cross the railroad tracks near her home. What changed her habit: a Saturday train-safety class.

        “I'll give them more respect now, not because of the ticket but because of the safe ty factor,” she said. “I pay more attention now.”

        Ms. Franklin was among the 34 people who chose the class over a court appearance for walking on railroad tracks or driving against warning lights. Police last month cited more than 80 people for the violations during a five-hour sweep of Hamilton. Those who attended the class had their cases dismissed, said Police Sgt. James Malone.

        The bulk of Saturday's two-hour session included talks by two railroad engineers who shared stories of dangers on the railroad, and railroad police who discussed laws regarding railroad property.

        The engineers talked about their experiences in dealing with accidents and the scores of close calls they have seen.

        “A lot of people on the railroad care about other people,” said B.J. Hall, an engineer for more than 30 years who has been involved in a fatal accident. “I don't want to see anyone else killed.”

        Railroad officials have said that accidents sometimes are so traumatic and emotionally scarring that crews can never again climb aboard a train.

        “We see those victims,” Mr. Hall said. “It's really, really hard on engineers and conductors when that happens to them out there. (Crews) really relive that incident trip after trip after trip.”

        Norfolk Southern engineer Richard Vickrey said that even the innocent childhood pastime of putting things on the rail to be run over by a train can be dangerous. He recalled an incident in which someone put a spike on a rail and the weight of the train shot it through the window of a car. The driver, luckily, wasn't hurt.

        Bottom line: You're never going to win against a train, officials said.

        Last month's crackdown came after pedestrian-train accidents in Butler and Hamilton counties rose last year.

        Of the 54 deaths and injuries among railroad trespass ers statewide in 1998, eight were in Butler County and six in Hamilton County. There was only one such accident in each county in 1997.

        Police — who said the purpose of the blitz was to educate, not penalize — were pleased with the results of the class.

        “I'm happy with the apparent interest that was expressed by the folks that were here,” said David LaCompte, a special agent for Norfolk Southern Corp.


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