“See Tracks? Think Train.”

That’s the new safety campaign theme for the Missouri Rail Safety Week, Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, as declared by the Missouri Department of Transportation (Mo-DOT), The Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Missouri Operation Lifesaver.

“Collisions between vehicles or pedestrians and trains are preventable,” said Rick Mooney, executive director, Missouri Operation Lifesaver.

Mooney noted a federal study determined that 95 percent of vehicle/train accidents are the result of either driver error or inattention by the motorist.

“The one thing we are trying to teach is, the train is not going to be able to avoid the collision,” he said. “They have the right-of-way, plus with their speed, their size and weight, they’re not going to be able to stop in time. So it’s going to be up to the motorist to avoid it, so pay attention. If the crossing has signals, don’t take that chance and go around the gate or through the lights. Always look and listen for that train approaching.”

He announced radio ads are being launched around the state this week and will continue for the next two months to stress the fact that it is “no contest” to try to beat a train or to share a walkway with trains.

“We’re doing officer on a train this week,” said Mooney. “That’s where we work with law enforcement officials. We put an officer on the engine with the engineer and they are running up and down; and we’ll have officers on the ground in their cars to observe and then radio information if someone does violate – go around the signals or through the gates – and then they would arrest them or give them a warning.”

Mooney said enforcement efforts to deter violations of crossing safety laws and to curb trespassing on the railroad tracks are ongoing statewide this week; and he added that other safety events have already occurred to promote the new “See Tracks? Think Train” national campaign effort to reduce crashes and eliminate deaths and injuries with both crossing collisions and trespasser incidents.

Mooney said the number of such incidents has been on the decline in Missouri over the years as safety features have been added and upgraded, and crossing closed. Sixty-four crossing crashes and trespass incidents were reported in the state in 2013, resulting in 14 fatalities and 38 injuries. To date this year, Mooney said there has been just one fatality at a public crossing in Missouri.

“We’re very fortunate that way,” he said. “Although there are still crashes occurring, and that’s what we want to eliminate totally.”

Mooney said MoDOT uses both federal and state funding to work with the railroads to upgrade public crossings with lights and gates; and has combined efforts to close some crossings.

He advised, “They’ve been very active in the last 20-25 years on that; and made a significant reduction. Forty years ago, we were up to around 250 to 300 crashes a year with 30 to 40 people being killed; so significant decline has occurred.”

Mooney attributed those reductions to various safety improvements.

“Led by the signals; and lighting on the locomotives, where now there’s three headlights up there, they are easier to see than just one single light," he said. "We increased enforcement, and education, trying to get the message out to the people.”

Mooney added there are now fewer crossings; and more of those have signals. He continued, “And yet, almost half of all our crossing crashes occur at signals with those active warning devices, either flashing lights or flashing light signals and gates.”

He noted the most recent vehicle/train crash in Newton County, occurring on Apr. 28, 2014, was signalized with lights and gates. Mooney said no injuries occurred when that Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railroad train struck a vehicle, nor on Apr. 2, 2013 when a KCS locomotive struck a vehicle at a crossing of Shoal Creek Fish Road. He said one person was injured in the most recent Newton County collision between a vehicle and a Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad train, which happened on a county road near Racine on Nov. 12, 2012.

The last train incident to occur in the city of Neosho was on April 29, 2010, when a KCS train hit a vehicle at the Daugherty Rd. crossing, according to C. Doniele Carson, AVP corporate communications & community affairs, KCS.  

Carson noted the Kansas City Southern Railway Company is always working to improve public safety and the safety of its operation. In addition to hosting an Officer on a Train event in Independence, Mo. as part of Rail Safety Week in Missouri, Carson said the company is in the process of rehabilitating approximately 130 crossings from Richards, Mo. to Siloam Springs, Ark.

Just a couple of months before that, Dave McCracken, police chief, Neosho, reported a pedestrian was killed when struck by a train at Front St. and Jefferson Ave.

In a prepared statement, Eric Curtit, railroad administrator, MoDOT, said the agency helps to fund 30 to 35 signal upgrades per year; and works with local communities and the railroads to reduce the number of railroad crossings to improve safety. Curtit concluded, “A closed crossing is the safest crossing.”

Missouri Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade intersections and on railroad rights-of-way through public education, engineering and enforcement. To learn more about Missouri Operation Lifesaver, visit www.oli.org.