Rail Safety Week: Exercise promotes safe railway crossings

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The Department of Transportation wants to remind drivers they're not faster than a speeding train.

During Rail Safety Week, Tuesday morning, area officers rode shotgun on Union Pacific trains to join in on Operation Lifesaver.

Wisconsin Coordinator Susie Klinger says the effort aims to demonstrate the importance of exercising caution when approaching railroad crossings.

“If we're barreling down the track we don't expect people to be out there and that's when stuff happens; when the unexpected shoots out in front of you,” said Klinger.

Last year in Wisconsin Klinger says there were 36 crashes with three fatalities and so far this year that number is down with only seven crashes and two fatalities.

“Unfortunately it's once every three hours somebody on foot or in a vehicle gets hit by a train in the United States and every one of those is preventable,” said Klinger.

During Operation Lifesaver the Eau Claire Police Department, the Eau Claire Sheriff’s Department and the railroad handed out warnings to drivers not obeying the flashing red railroad signs.

Officer Kyle Roder says drivers illegally crossing in front of trains are common in Eau Claire.

“This is something that happens all the time. I think as a private citizen you probably see it yourself,” Roder said. “Unfortunately, a lot of that doesn't get reported.”

Roder said getting a chance to experience the traffic incidents from inside the train gave him a new perspective.

“They're the ones crossing these roads on a daily basis numerous times and they see it all the time and actually being up in the train today allowed me to the opportunity to see that firsthand too and how vehicles are trying to skirt in front of them and the dangers of that,” expanded Roder.

Chairman of Operation Lifesaver, Wisconsin, Gary Koerner says with trains going at a speed of 55mph, they take about a mile to stop, and weighing in around 19,000 tons he says they can do a lot of damage.

“In a train and car crash it is 20 times more likely you're going to be killed than in a car crash,” said Koerner. “So, we want to make sure we never cross paths.”

This is the first year the railroad is traveling with a vehicle involved in a train crash that killed a mother and her child.

Klinger added, “This particular driver did not stop for a flashing red light and thought she could beat the train.”

She says the extra effort is to remind drivers to ditch distractions, pay attention, and when they see tracks to think train.

“This is real life of what happens out there,” said Klinger. It's scary.”

Operation Lifesaver is also visiting Wisconsin Rapids schools to give presentations encouraging safe habits at railroad crossings and discourage rail trespassing.

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