“More powerful than a locomotive” may be true for comic book heroes, but in the real world, everyday supermen and superwomen need to “respect the train” and stay off of the tracks on which these formidable vehicles travel.
“A six-car Silverliner V train weighs almost one million pounds and it can take one traveling 55 miles-per-hour about a quarter-of-a-mile to come to a stop,” said SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey. “Trains can’t swerve to avoid a person or object in their path. If someone or something is in the track area, there is no guarantee that the train won’t hit it.”
To stress the importance of not trespassing on train tracks and track right-of-ways and not ignoring the rail crossing gates at grade crossings, SEPTA made “Respect the Train” the focus of its third annual “Make the Safe Choice” Safety Awareness Day. During the morning rush hour on Wednesday, April 29, 400 Authority employees distributed educational materials and answered safety questions at more than 100 SEPTA rail, trolley and bus stations, loops and transportation centers throughout the authority’s five-county service area. Safety messages were also displayed in the authority’s stations and on its vehicles.
“You might think you know the schedule of when trains are coming, but there could be occasions where we need to run trains on an adjacent track, such as for emergency work or to express for service,” said Scott Sauer, SEPTA’s Chief System Safety Officer. “Today’s trains aren’t loud – with electric vehicles and welded rails, trains no longer make that clickety-clack noise. This means you won’t know the train is coming until it’s too late to get out of the way. You should assume there could be a train coming on any track at any time.”
SEPTA held its first system-wide safety day in 2013. The Authority is believed to be the first U.S. transit organization to hold such an all-out, one day safety endeavor. This year, Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATCO joined SEPTA’s initiative by handing out educational materials at their locations.
“Rail trespassing is one of the top safety issues for transit organizations across the country,” said Sauer. “Having our peers from Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATCO participate in our Safety Day demonstrates the commitment the transportation industry has to stopping trespassing and avoiding collisions at highway grade crossings.”
According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), nationwide, 945 people trespassing in the track area were killed or injured by trains in 2014. Pennsylvania ranked fourth among all states, with 53 casualties (27 deaths and 26 injuries).
“The majority of train related incidents are preventable,” said Sauer. “By crossing the tracks instead of using a dedicated overpass or underpass, people are putting themselves in imminent and unnecessary danger.”
Respecting the train is also important for motorists, too, as seen in a rash of catastrophic grade crossing accidents across the country.
“There are precautions that should be taken when driving near train tracks and through grade crossings,” said Sauer. “When the warning signals sound and lights flash indicating that the gates are closing, drivers should not speed up and try to pass under the crossing gates. There are markers on the road that indicate the safest distance for vehicles to stop from the grade crossing when the gates are down.”
Sauer also warns motorists not to drive onto the tracks at a grade crossing unless they have ample space to pull ahead: “The crossing gates could come down with your car on the tracks and no room to drive forward or reverse back.”
SEPTA’s system-wide Safety Day 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 Sauer. “We often visit locations as a result of community request or stations that have had a high volume of customers or trespassers.”
To complement the Safety Blitzes, SEPTA produced a video that demonstrates the science and force of operating and stopping a train. The video can be viewed on the authority’s safety web page, https://www.septa.org/safety/respect-the-train.html. Copies of the video will also be sent to local schools. “We’ve found that children are very responsive to our safety presentations,” said Sauer. “By relaying the message with an action video rather than throwing out statistics in a lecture, we feel the information we are presenting will have more of an effect on the kids.”
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 – which are aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian and driver injuries and fatalities around railroad tracks by highlighting risky behaviors – free of charge to school and community groups.
“We urge more organizations to take advantage 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.
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/.