Nelson's View

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Operation Lifesaver

While driving through Alta the other day I turned left onto Main St from Hwy 7. However, there were semis and tractors lined up and down the street preparing to pull into the co-op. Some were parked on the wrong side of the road. It was very congested. Some were even parked on the railroad tracks. Had a train been coming through town it would have had no where to go but right through those trucks and tractors. I wondered if those tractors and trucks had heard a train whistle blowing would they have ALL been able to move out of the way quick enough? Where would they have gone to be safely out of the way?

We had a fatal tractor-train accident just weeks ago in Alta, and Storm Lake a few years ago saw a fine student-athlete die in a train collision. I'm praying something doesn't happen like that again soon.

With farmers busy getting crops out, heavy machinery is on the roads constantly. But no matter the size of your rig, a train always wins.

Before moving to the area I lived In North Platte, NE, home of Bailey Yard... the largest reclassification rail yard in the world. While there I got a bus tour of the yard and took a ride on the Operation Lifesaver train, a nationwide, non-profit public information program dedicated to reducing the number of collisions, injuries and fatalities at highway-rail crossings. There are OL programs in every state. I'm not sure what Iowa's program is like but I know that in North Platte special guest speakers would regularly talk to children about rail safety which would include never walking or playing around tracks. I heard some pretty sobering stories. Do we consider how dangerous crossings can be?

According to 2007 Federal Railroad Administration, there were 2,728 highway-rail grade crossing collisions in 2007. Iowa is in the top 15 states in collisions. Sixty-five percent of the collisions happened in these 15 states.

*Freight trains do not travel on a predictable schedule. Always expect a train at every highway-rail intersection. Stop and look both ways and listen. If it's hard to hear in your vehicle open a window.

*A typical locomotive weighs approximately 200 tons. A 100-car train may be 6,000 tons. The weight ratio of an automobile to a car is the same as a soda can to a car.

*Trains cannot stop quickly. A 100-car freight train traveling at 55 mph will need more than a mile to stop - that's about 18 football fields.

*An approaching train will always be closer and moving faster than you think.

*If there are more than one set of tracks and a train has just passed wait a moment before proceeding just in case there's another train coming on the other side that you might not be able to see.

* Reach the columnist at jnelson@stormlakepilottribune.