Officials hope public stays safe around railroad tracks

ALPENA — Michigan Operation Lifesaver and area law enforcement are urging pedestrians and drivers to be cautious around railroad tracks not just during the first U.S. Rail Safety Week, but throughout the year.

Sam Crowl, state coordinator for Michigan Operation Lifesaver, said although the number of highway-rail crossing collisions, deaths and injuries has dropped over the past five decades, there is still a person or vehicle hit by a train every three hours in the country.

Preliminary Federal Railroad Administration data shows eight people were killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in 2016 in the state, according to a press release.

In addition, 13 pedestrians or trespassers were injured or killed while walking on or near railroad tracks in Michigan last year.

Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Rail Director Tim Hoeffner said residents should expect a train on every track or at any crossing and take precautions.

“The goal of RSW is to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education and empower Michigan residents to keep themselves safe near highway-rail grade crossings and railroad rights of way,” he said.

Michigan State PoliceAlpena Post Sgt. Joe Richards said one railroad issue northern Michigan residents face is rural railroad crossings that lack signals. Train engineers are required to sound their horn at every crossing, but sometimes the warning is not heard by motorists.

“I have seen more crashes from trains where people are not yielding and not using caution to see if a train is crossing,” he said.

Richards said it is important to use extra caution when approaching a train crossing whether it has a signal or not.

He said this is especially true for crossings that do not have signals that activate when a train crosses. He said motorists should slow down to make sure a train is not coming before it crosses.

Richards said motorists should turn their radio down, and even crack a window to see if they can hear a train signal sounding or the train’s horn.

“With a crash between a train and vehicle you know who is going to win that battle every time. They’re carrying a lot of weight and a lot of momentum,” Richards said.

He said although there are not many fast-moving trains in northern Michigan they still have much weight and momentum and can cause massive amounts of damage.

More information about train safety can be found by visiting www.oli.org.

Jason Ogden can be reached via email at jogden@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Jason on Twitter @jo_alpenanews.