Special to Reflector-Chronicle
Law enforcement agents in Dickinson County received several hours of rail safety education last week. The two-day training and observation event provided by BNSF Railway and Kansas Operation Lifesaver began on last Thursday, Aug. 22, with an 8-hour class taught by BNSF Field Safety Support Coordinator Randy Wells and assisted by Senior Special Agent Mark Wasko of the Union Pacific Police Department.
The class educates agents on the safe investigation of highway rail grade crossing collisions.
The second day was an observation exercise called “Officer on the Train,” where a law enforcement officer is allowed to ride on the train to observe how motorists safely (or unsafely) navigate railroad crossings. BNSF offers these events in an effort to raise awareness of rail grade crossing safety because every three hours, someone in the US is involved in a collision with a train.
Four law enforcement agencies participated in the observation event the morning of Friday, Aug. 23, including the Abilene Police Department, Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office, Kansas Highway Patrol, and BNSF police.
Crossings observed included those at South Buckeye Avenue, as well as those at West 1st and NW 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 14th near North Washington Street.
Tom Schwartz, McKinley Elementary School principal, was glad to see that the police and railroad joined efforts, especially in the West 1st and NW 2nd street crossings that border the school’s playground. “There are kids on our playground that see people trying to beat trains- driving around gates,” he said. “They know it’s wrong and it upsets them. They worry if the people in the cars are going to make it and be okay. What are these drivers teaching our students when they do this? It’s just a terrible example.”
During the observation period that lasted just over an hour, deputies, officers, special agents and troopers issued 9 warnings and at least 5 citations for violations of laws at rail grade crossings.
The law says that when the lights begin flashing, you are required to stop and wait until the train goes by, whether you think you can make it across before the train gets there or not,” said Julie La Combe, Kansas Operation Lifesaver director. “The lights flash before the gates deploy. When you see them start to flash- stop. Because when the gates start to move a train will be in that intersection within 20 seconds.”
Other laws involve when it is allowable to begin crossing once a train has gone by.
“If it is a gated crossing, you are not to cross until the gates are all the way up and the lights are off,” La Combe added.
Abilene Police Chief Mark Heimer coordinated local law enforcement’s involvement in the observation and awareness activities. Regarding Abilene Police Department’s participation, Heimer said, “This event provided an excellent opportunity to enhance public safety by working in partnership with the railroads and fellow law enforcement entities to raise community awareness of railroad crossing safety.”
“Any time is train time for those of us in rail safety,” La Combe said, “but we hope that people of all ages will take notice of when their paths cross railroad tracks. Being in a hurry can make the drive to work or school unsafe if we fail to obey the law. No one wants a ticket, but hitting a train with your vehicle is so much worse. It’s a 4000 to 1 ratio, much like a car driving over a beverage can. Even if you tie at the crossing, you lose.”
For more information on the events or to contact Kansas Operation lifesaver, call 785-806-8801.