Posted: Sunday, August 5th 2012 at 10:45am
Train trip calls attention to dangers around railroads
By Rob Moore Editor
A railroad trespasser waves to the passing Operation Lifesaver Safety Train just north of Atlanta Highway on Wednesday. (Photo/Rob Moore)
UNDATED – Georgia historically ranks in the top 10 states in America for automobile-train collisions, but that's a performance ranking safety officials want to change.
On Wednesday, Georgia Operation Lifesaver and Norfolk Southern Railway teamed up for a railroad safety awareness event – a train trip from Duluth to Toccoa and back.
The Operation Lifesaver Safety Train departed from the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, carrying about 100 people 67 miles along Norfolk Southern’s Piedmont Division line to Toccoa.
Passengers included federal and state officials; city officials from Buford, Cornelia, Duluth, Gainesville, Oakwood, and Toccoa; as well as officials from Banks, Habersham, Hall, Gwinnett, and Stephens counties; law enforcement personnel, including officials from the Georgia State Patrol and Georgia Department of Public Safety’s Motor Carrier Compliance Division; and Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Also on board were school pupil transportation directors, representatives from the trucking industry, and other law enforcement and public safety representatives.
In 2011, Georgia experienced 89 highway/rail grade crossing collisions, resulting in 29 injuries and seven fatalities.
From January to April 2012, Georgia had 31 highway/rail grade crossing collisions, resulting in 15 injuries and two fatalities.
“Crossing collisions are the most preventable of all motor vehicle crashes, since the law clearly requires the motorist to yield to an oncoming train,” said Georgia Operation Lifesaver State Coordinator Jennie Glasgow.
In addition to pointing out the dangers posed by motorists who try to beat the train through a crossing, Georgia Operation Lifesaver also stresses the hazards created when people trespass on railroad property.
“Railroad tracks and rights-of-way are the private property of the railroads, and anyone walking on tracks or entering railroad yards is guilty of trespassing,” Glasgow said.
During 2011, Georgia experienced 11 fatal incidents involving railroad trespassers and nine injuries. From January to April 2012, that number was six injuries and six fatalities.
Wednesday’s trip from Duluth to Toccoa in the train’s locomotive didn’t reveal any near-misses at grade crossings, but did show problems with trespassers on and around railroad tracks and property. As the train entered the main line from the yard at the museum, a man could be seen crossing the tracks out of the woods with his bicycle.
Just north of Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, a man walking southbound in the adjacent track waved casually at the Operation Lifesaver Safety Train, seemingly unconcerned he was trespassing and placing his own life in danger.
Capt. Keith Smith of Gainesville Fire Department said he saw a man sleeping in the woods along the tracks.
Under the Queen City Parkway bridge, a tent community flourished with those there paying little attention to the passing train.
Once in Toccoa, the train paused at the depot and passengers de-boarded for lunch at The Cornerstone Restaurant, where Toccoa Mayor David Austin presented a proclamation to Glasgow and Rick Harris, director of corporate communications for Norfolk Southern.
Blackwood stressed the importance of railroads to Georgia, noting the need for safe interaction between trains and automobiles.
“Georgia is a major player when it comes to railroads,” Blackwood said. “We have our ports and we also are a major egress point – north, south, east, and west – that gets goods and people through our state, and we want to do that safely.”
Wednesday’s train included a video camera mounted on the front of the engine, with monitors in each of the vintage passenger cars to allow passengers to view traffic approaching the 45 highway/rail grade crossings along the route.
In the Gwinnett County to Stephens County Corridor, from 2002-1011, here is the breakdown of incidents (Crossing collisions/fatalities/injuries and trespass fatalities/injuries):
• Banks County (19 crossings) – 3/0/0 crossing incidents; and 1/1 trespass incidents;
• Gwinnett County (49 crossings) – 36/1/4 crossing incidents; 8/4 trespass incidents;
• Habersham County (13 crossings) – 1/0/0 crossing incidents; 2/1 trespass incidents;
• Hall County (83 crossings) – 25/1/7 crossing incidents; 3/2 trespass incidents;
• Stephens County (53 crossings) – 2/0/0 crossing incidents; 0/1 trespass incidents.
That translates to 217 total crossings, with 67 total collisions at crossings, resulting in 11 injuries and two fatalities over the 10-year period. During the same timeframe, there were nine trespass injuries and 14 fatalities.
Three northeast Georgia counties are among the 20 Georgia counties with the highest incident rates from 2006 to 2011.
Barrow County had 11 collisions resulting in one injury from 2006 to 2011; Gwinnett County had 18 collisions; Hall County had 16 collisions resulting in one fatality and five injuries.
“We have over 2,000 crossings [in Georgia] that can be very dangerous if they’re not treated carefully,” Blackwood said.” We see by what we’ve been through [today] how dangerous it can be if somebody doesn’t obey that crossing – tries to get across there – and you see just how close you are to a highway. It is an eye-opening experience when you’re looking at it from that perspective.”
To learn more about being safe around railroads, visit www.georgiaol.org or www.oli.org.
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