Railroad safety education took to the tracks this week with the Norman Police Department, the Amtrak Police Department, Operation Lifesaver Inc. and Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway Company.
The third annual law enforcement initiative “Operation Clear Track” started Sunday and runs through Saturday. Amtrak and Operation Lifesaver Inc. mobilized more than 600 police and sheriff’s departments across the country. The Norman Police Department had traffic officers at railway crossings from 8 to 10 a.m. Tuesday to keep an eye out for violations, and provide violators and those waiting for a train with safety tips.
“Every three hours in the United States, a person or vehicle is hit by a train,” Rachel Maleh, Operation Lifesaver Inc. executive director said in a news release. “While we have made strides in reducing deaths and injuries, the goal of Operations Clear Track and other Rail Safety Week activities is raising awareness to save lives.”
Lieutenant Jeff Robertson said the police department wrote 10 warnings or citations, three railroad track violations and made one arrest for driving under suspension during the two-hour operation Tuesday. Nationwide last year, this rail safety detail issued more than 2,500 citations along with 4,313 written and verbal warnings and 34 arrests.
Joe Sloan, BNSF director of public relations, said the railway company’s officers were out with Norman Police Department Tuesday, and went to different cities throughout the week.
BNSF is a national railway company that is the product of nearly 400 different railroad lines that merged or were acquired over the course of 160 years. The company owns and operates Norman’s railway.
“Each time you’re around a crossing or you’re around trains just remember to be present, look both ways and know what’s going on,” Sloan said.
Norman has experienced a lot of train pedestrian and vehicle crashes, partly because of the volume of trains that go through the city, Robertson said. For this reason, he said, it’s really important that residents understand these crashes are life and death situations. The Police Department was unable to compile a list of crashes in time for publication.
“One of the things people don’t quite understand is it can take a train a mile or more to stop, and that’s one of the big things to really consider,” Robertson said. “Even if the conductor sees you a long ways back, there’s a chance that they aren’t going to be able to stop, because it takes so long to stop that much weight when it’s going the speeds they are going.”
Shawn O’Leary, the city’s public works director, said Norman’s average train traffic during the peak summer season can be 38 trains a day. That means in a train could be running through and bisecting Norman every 35 minutes, he said.
Sloan said an average of 32 trains went through Norman in 2018, including 2 Amtrak trains which operate on the BNSF track through town.
“Through the Rail Safety Week efforts of last year, along with what Operation Lifesaver has done with the education and outreach, in Oklahoma our numbers were actually down by about 15% last year,” Mark Sexton, Operation Lifesaver Inc. of Oklahoma executive director, said of train collisions with residents and vehicles.
There are three ways to reduce the number of incidents: education, enforcement and engineering, Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman said.
Education is the component that’s the most benign, but also the most effective Magliari said.
Enforcement is issuing citations for railway violations or trespassing, and engineering is building a structure such as an overpass that take roads and sidewalks away from tracks. That’s impractical in a lot of cases, Magliari said, and expensive in every case.
Engineering is a component Norman has utilized before. Norman’s train track bisects the city, which is part of the reason Robinson overpass was created. However, O’Leary said the desire for having the road go under the train tracks was more driven by public safety.
The concern was with public safety such as ambulances, police and fire who were unable to make it to the other side of the tracks during emergency situations, he said. Norman’s situation is different than other cities, he said, because most cities don’t have a train track literally bisecting the city, downtown and campus.
“We want everybody to remember that this is national Rail Safety Week, but we don’t want our message to end at the end of the week,” Sexton said. “We want to be able to have rail safety in everyone’s mind, and specifically down in Norman during the football games, we had incidents last year where two pedestrians were hit during football games in Norman.”
For more information about Rail Safety Week, Operation Clear Track and Stop Track Tragedies visit oil.org or use the hashtag #railsafetyweek2019. For information about local rail safety residents can contact Lieutenant Jeff Robertson at 405-366-5305.
Grade Crossing Safety Tips:
• Never drive or walk around lowered grade crossing gates.Never attempt to outrun an approaching train.Never stop your vehicle on a grade crossing waiting for traffic to move.Never begin to drive across the tracks unless you can get all the way across.Always call the Emergency Notification System number 24 hours a day to report problems or obstructions at the crossing. Look for the number on the blue sign near the crossing or on the crossbuck. Always remember a train can take a mile or more to stop.Always know that the average train is three feet wider than the track on each side.Always slow down and stop your vehicle prior to train tracks when lights begin to flash.Railroad trespassing
• Never walk, run, play or take pictures on the railroad right-of-way. If you are on or near the tracks, you are trespassing on private property and breaking the law.Never attempt to outrun an approaching train. It can take a train a mile or more to stop.If you're standing on the train tracks, you may not hear or feel an oncoming train in time to get away safely.Only cross the tracks at designated public crossings.For more safety tips, visit oli.org
Provided by Norman Police Department, Operation Lifesaver Inc. and Amtrak Police Department