It’s a call no parent, spouse or friend should have to take – their loved one isn’t coming home because he or she made a fatal decision to take a shortcut across the train tracks. Yet every day, people across the Greater Philadelphia region are increasing the chances that their families and friends will receive devastating news because they made a risky choice.
To remind the public of the dangers of walking along, playing by or cutting across its train and trolley tracks and through its rail yards and depots, SEPTA held its first-ever “Make the Safe Choice” Safety Awareness Day on Wednesday, May 1. From 6-9:30 am, 500 Authority employees and City Year corps members distributed educational materials and answered safety questions at more than 160 SEPTA rail, trolley and bus stations, loops and transportation centers throughout the authority’s five-county service area. Safety messages were also displayed on the authority’s vehicles and in its stations.
“You wouldn’t walk down the middle of the highway, why would you walk along the tracks? The tracks are the highway for our trains,” said SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey.
Rail fatalities, accidental and intentional, are a national problem. Through the first four months of 2013, there have been eight deaths involving SEPTA’s Regional Rail and Broad Street lines. Sadly, that puts the authority on a pace this year that could exceed the 12 deaths on all modes in 2012.
“The majority of transit related incidents are preventable,” said SEPTA System Safety Director Scott Sauer. “A moving train can’t steer out of the way of an object or person in the tracks and it takes more effort and time to slow or stop a train. By crossing the tracks instead of using a dedicated overpass or underpass to get to the other side of station, people are putting themselves in imminent, and unnecessary, danger.”
More than one million customers ride SEPTA’s trains, buses and trolleys every day and thousands more of the region’s residents live near the authority’s stations, shops, vehicles, infrastructure and facilities. Because so many people interact with SEPTA on a daily basis, the authority is committed not only to providing a safe travel environment for its customers, but also to ensuring that all members of the public understand how to “make the safe choice” when riding on or walking near mass transit vehicles and facilities.
“You can never be too rushed to be cautious,” said Sauer. “Just taking a few seconds to check your surroundings, staying behind yellow lines on platforms and not running to catch a train or bus can be the difference between life and death.”
“Not only do we want to reach our customers at our stations and transportation centers with our Safety Awareness Day messages, we want them to share the educational materials and tips with their families, friends and neighbors,” said Casey. “We need the community to be our partners to help us spread the word about safety.”
SEPTA’s system wide Safety Awareness Day is unprecedented – this is believed to be the only such all-out endeavor by a U.S. transit organization. But for the Authority, this isn’t a one day event – it is Day One of its efforts to get everyone, SEPTA’s customers, neighbors and employees, to commit to being alert while on or near SEPTA property. The event is an extension of SEPTA System Safety’s “Safety Blitz” education program.
“At least once a month, our safety officers visit railroad, rail transit and bus stations across the Authority, reviewing regulations and precautions with thousands of passengers,” said Sauer. “We often visit locations as a result of community request or stations that have had a high volume of passengers or trespassers.” Among the stations frequently targeted for Safety Blitzes are Overbrook and Fern Rock Regional Rail stations and Leamy Avenue on the Route 101 Trolley line – locations that have copious amounts of trespassers. “We find that people either don’t recognize that entering the track area is trespassing and a violation of the law, or that they believe they will be able to hear the train or trolley coming and get out of the way,” said Sauer. “What they don’t realize is that a train or trolley can come on any track at any time, not all vehicles make all stops and electric trains are very quiet. You should never assume you will hear the vehicle coming and have time to get out of the way.”
SEPTA’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. “We urge more organizations to take advance of the Operation Lifesaver training we provide,” said Casey. Each program is tailored to the specific audience and includes a slide show, video and question-and-answer session.
“We have made Operation Lifesaver presentations to thousands of children and adults throughout our service region over the last seven or eight years and we find that younger children understand the dangers of trespassing on or near the rails, but adults don’t comprehend the risk they are taking,” said Sauer. “I ask those people that, before they make the deliberate choice to walk along the tracks, they think about their families and the loved ones that are waiting for them to come home.”
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 Operation Lifesaver, visit http://oli.org/.