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All Aboard The Safety Train!

By Staff | Jul 2, 2009

The Union Pacific railroad brought several historic passenger cars to Emmetsburg on Tuesday to promote it’s Operation Lifesaver program. Over 100 area residents rode the rails from Emmetsburg to ?Graettinger to learn about rail crossing safety. -- Rachel Miller photo

“This was great! This is the first time I’ve been on a train in about 40 years,” said Jane Johnson. Johnson, who resides in Portland, Oregon, just happened to be visiting her sister, Emerald Oaks resident Betty Miller in Emmetsburg, and joined her aboard the Union Pacific Operation Lifesaver Safety Passenger Train on Tuesday afternoon. The ride was coordinated by the Union Pacific Employee Club of Fort Dodge/Eagle Grove.

Passengers boarded the train behind the Police Station in Emmetsburg and rode the rails north through Osgood into Graettinger, then returned south to Emmetsburg. The entire trip, at a clip of a little over 30 miles per hour, took just over an hour and 15 minutes.

Passenger Irene Crook admitted that it’d been a long time since she had ridden on a train.

“We rode the train a lot in the 1940s; we’d go back and forth to Illinois on the train,” she said. “This trip was wonderful.”

“All these years, I’d never been to Osgood,” said Crook’s traveling companion, Leora Johnson. “I finally made it!”

The goal of Operation Lifesaver is easy to see--vehicles stopped at a railroad crossing as a train approaches. -- Dan Voigt photo

The ladies joined other passengers, including local government officials and law enforcement members, on the free train ride.

Other passengers commented on the varied perspective that train travel offers; you see the other side of homes and communities, as well as a fresh view of the countryside. Riders viewed growing fields of corn and soybeans, cattle grazing in pastures, and dozens of white-tailed deer bounding away.

The ride wasn’t only about enjoying the view on a pleasant summer day; the reason for the event was to educate the public about safety around trains and railroads.

Prior to the return trip, Operation Lifesaver Presenter Don Heddinger from Fort Dodge briefly shared a safety message, as well as several alarming statistics.

“Iowa ranked tenth nationally for the number of grade crossing collisions in 2008 with 71 collisions resulting in five fatalities and 25 serious injuries,” said Heddinger. “Iowa also recorded two trespass fatalities and six trespass injuries. Obviously, that is a category that we would like to be fiftieth in.”

Nationwide, in 2008, there were 2,373 collisions between trains and vehicles resulting in 286 fatalities and 913 serious injuries. There were also 458 trespass fatalities and 426 serious injuries by people trespassing on railroad property across the nation.

Heddinger reminded the riders that railroad tracks, trestles, yards, and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fines. Railroad property is private property.

“Do not hunt or fish from railroad trestles,” Heddinger warned. “There is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be used as sidewalks or pedestrian bridges.”

For the safety of the public, it is illegal to be on railroad tracks unless you are at a designated public crossing.

“The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate,” said Heddinger. “If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.”

Finally, Heddinger warned motorists to never drive around lowered gates.

“It’s illegal and deadly,” he said. “If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or contact your local law enforcement agency. Do not drive around the lowered crossing arms; you need to find another place to cross.”

From June 28 through June 30, Union Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Employee Club of Fort Dodge/Eagle Grove conducted free safety rides in the Belmond, Eagle Grove, Laurens, Fort Dodge, West Bend, Emmetsburg, and Estherville areas.