Rail trespassing is one of the top safety issues for transit organizations across the country. SEPTA and transportation companies throughout the United States are partnering with Operation Lifesaver Inc. and the U.S. Department of Transportation for the first national “Rail Safety Week”, September 24-30, 2017.
According to Operation Lifesaver, in the United States, a person or vehicle is struck by a train every three hours. The Federal Railroad Administration recorded more than 2,000 highway-rail grade crossing collisions (https://oli.org/about-us/news/statistics/collisions-by-state) and almost 1,000 pedestrian rail trespass casualties (https://oli.org/about-us/news/statistics/trespassing-fatalities-by-state) throughout the United States in 2016.
“Rail Safety Week is aimed at reducing the number of injuries and fatalities around railroad tracks and grade crossings by educating pedestrians and motorists on how to be safe when walking or driving near railroad and rail transit tracks and facilities,” said Jim Fox, SEPTA’s Assistant General Manager of System Safety. “Trains can run on any track and in any direction at any time. Also, don’t assume that trains only run according to a published schedule.”
If you think you can listen for the sound of a train to know when to clear the tracks, think again. “Today’s trains aren’t loud. Electric vehicles and welded rails mean trains no longer make that clickety-clack noise. You won’t know the train is coming until it’s too late to get out of the way,” said Fox.
SEPTA’s trains can weigh one million pounds and it takes a considerable distance for one to come to a complete stop even when traveling at a moderate speed. At railroad grade crossings, closing gates, warning bells and flashing lights indicate that the train – or trains in multiple track territory – is approaching and has the right of way. Drivers that pass through flashers or crossing gates are in violation of motor vehicle laws and are subject to heavy fines.
“We’ve seen an increase in our grade crossing gates being hit by motorists,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel. “Just one of these incidents could be catastrophic if a car finds itself in the path of an oncoming train.”
Road markers indicate the safest distance for vehicles to stop from the grade crossing when the gates are down. “Never travel into a crossing until the flashing lights go out completely,” said Knueppel. “There may be a second train coming from the opposite direction that will re-activate the gates.” Motorists should not drive onto the tracks at a grade crossing unless they have ample space to pull ahead.
In addition to a week-long education and social media campaign with messaging to raise awareness about safe behavior around all types of rail, the keystone event of Rail Safety Week will be “Transit Safety Thursday”. On Thursday, September 28, SEPTA’s System Safety officers and employee ambassadors will conduct Safety Blitzes at several SEPTA Regional Rail stations during the morning rush hour. From 6:30-8:30 am, SEPTA representatives will distribute educational materials and answer safety questions at Lansdale, North Wales, Primos, Conshohocken, Hatboro and Philmont Stations – stations all located in close proximity to grade crossings.
SEPTA System Safety officers will wrap up Transit Safety Thursday with a Safety Blitz at the Leamy Avenue, Saxer Avenue and Woodland Avenue Stations along the authority’s Route 101 Trolley Line in Springfield, Delaware County from 2-3:45 pm. E.T. Richardson Middle School, Springfield Senior High School and St. Francis of Assisi Parish School are located within close proximity of the trolley stations and SEPTA representatives will use the Blitz to teach local students about the dangers of rail transit trespassing.
SEPTA’s participation in Rail Safety Week is an extension of the authority’s Safety Blitz education program. “At least once a month, our safety officers and police officers visit railroad, rail transit and bus stations across the Authority, reviewing regulations and precautions with thousands of customers,” said Fox. “We often visit locations as a result of community request or stations that have had a high volume of customers or trespassers.” SEPTA offers rail safety tips and videos on its website, https://www.septa.org/safety/. The Authority’s System Safety Department also makes Operation Lifesaver rail safety presentations to students from kindergarten through high school and to a wide variety of audiences such as hearing and visually impaired adults, driver’s education students, emergency responders and professional drivers. SEPTA offers the presentations free of charge to school and community groups.
For more information about SEPTA safety and to download PDFs of safety tips for all SEPTA modes, visit https://www.septa.org/safety/tips/. For information about SEPTA’s Operation Lifesaver presentations, and to schedule a presentation, call 215-580-7800. For more information about Rail Safety Week, visit https://oli.org/.