Nationwide rail safety campaign rolls out in CT

WALLINGFORD --   This week is Rail Safety Week across the country and Tuesday morning, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and other agencies shared some critical safety tips.

The Hartford line, from New Haven to Springfield, features over 30 railroad grade crossings. So, education is important. And, it’s working.

“Since June, our fiscal year, there have been no grade crossing collisions and no grade crossing accidents at all,” said James Redeker, Commissioner of the CT Department of Transportation.

Part of the nationwide Operation Lifesaver rail safety campaign targets new drivers, including on their written exam.

“At the DMV, we have added information to our driver training manual for young folks, who are learning how to drive, as well as adults, who are learning how to drive,” said Michael Bzdyra, Commissioner of the CT Department of Motor Vehicles.

“As Amtrak police, we travel to many of the drivers ed schools and conduct a special class, usually a one hour class, in drivers ed to push that (rail) safety message,” said Det. Robert Hanson of Amtrak Police.

The CT DOT has reached out to over 5,000 children in schools up-and-down the Hartford Line, as well.

“There is no safe opportunity around trains when they are coming,” said Dr. Salvatore Menzo, Superintendent of Wallingford Public Schools.”You need to stay away from them. There is no playing. There is no bike riding. There’s no putting pennies on the tracks.”

And, even if the gates at crossings are merely flashing, and not in the down position, you should not cross.

“There’s times, since most of this territory is double tracked, a train may clear the grade crossing and another may train travel through on another track,” said Hanson.

Among the messages delivered today: it takes a train, traveling 55 mph, more than a mile to stop

“So, you should assume that a train is closer than you think and moving faster than you know,” said Redeker.

One new safety measure in place: caution signs on sidewalks approaching crossings  because, with the tendency of people to have their heads buried in their phones, often times with ear buds or headphones on, it can cause a very real danger. In fact, many people have been killed under such scenario at rail crossings.

Rail Safety Week Events include:

Wednesday, September 26: School Bus Outreach. Operation Lifesaver Connecticut will be visiting several school bus companies in municipalities along the Hartford Line corridor, conducting targeted outreach. This effort will provide critical safety information to keep bus drivers and students safe when driving routes that cross railroad crossings. Reaching over 400 school bus drivers, this outreach effort will provide the drivers with the knowledge and ability to maneuver rail crossings safely, and pass on important safety tips to student riders.

Thursday, September 27: Rail Commuter Outreach. Operation Lifesaver Connecticut volunteers will be positioned at several Connecticut rail stations during the morning commute from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., distributing rail passenger safety brochures. This effort will target rail passengers, to remind them that rail safety is as important at train stations and onboard, as it is when driving or walking near train tracks.  Representatives will be stationed at the Hartford Line stations in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, and Windsor, as well as the Metro North station in Stamford.

Friday, September 28: Business Outreach Event. Operation Lifesaver Connecticut will be conducting targeted outreach to several local businesses who operate fleets of commercial trucks or delivery vehicles to underscore the importance of vigilance at railroad crossings when operating commercial vehicles.

Top 5 Rail Safety Tips for Connecticut Residents

1.      Never trespass on railroad tracks. It is both dangerous and illegal to cross rail tracks at any point other than a designated public railroad crossing. Between 2012 and 2016, there were 6 injuries and 25 fatalities resulting from trespassing collisions in Connecticut.

2.      Drivers should never attempt to drive around a lowered gate or disregard other audio or visual cues. Even if you cannot see or hear a train, these cues all mean that a train is approaching the intersection, and you should STOP and exercise caution. Between 2012 and 2016, there were 15 reported grade crossing collisions in Connecticut, resulting in 3 fatalities and one injury. If for any reason your vehicle becomes stuck on tracks, immediately clear the area and locate the emergency sign located at all grade crossings.
3.      Children should never play on or near railroad tracks. Trains are often quieter and faster moving than they appear and can take more than a mile to fully stop. According to the FRA, nearly 1,100 pedestrian casualties occurred nationwide in 2016. Many children are fascinated by trains, and are among the most vulnerable to misunderstanding the risks associated with trains and tracks.

4.      Bicyclists should always disembark and walk across railroad tracks when possible. Always cross tracks at a 90-degree angle to avoid narrow wheels getting stuck between the rails.

5.      Rail passengers should stay alert always when on a platform or train. Be sure to stand away from the edge, as trains are wider than the tracks. Mind the gap when boarding and debarking a train.