“Safety train” rolls through Jacksonville

By Jim McCabe on July 11 at 7:43am

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The train gets ready to leave the rail yard off West Lafayette.

It was “all aboard” for several dozen passengers in Jacksonville Thursday on the Norfolk Southern Safety Train.

The train was part of Operation Lifesaver, a special safety passenger train that tries to raise awareness about being safe and alert at highway and railway crossings. The series of cars includes an exhibit and locomotive simulator that has been travelling across Indiana and Illinois this week.

Chip Pew is the state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver.

“If you’re not in the path of a train, nothing bad can happen to you. It seems like common sense, and yet hundreds of times a year, people are involved in incidents with trains,” says Pew.

“So, not only do we want to give them the messages, but we also want to let them know that Operation Lifesaver as well as the Norfol-Southern here are here to help them with whatever railroad safety issues they have in their communities.”

Passengers got to see what train crew members see from the locomotive cab from video cameras mounted on the locomotives that broadcasted into special monitors in the passenger seats, according to Norfolk-Southern public relations director Rob Chapman.

“The objective there is to let people see sometimes some pretty dumb things that people do as we approach crossings. We’ll see some close calls, we’ll see trespassers on the track jumping off just in time, that kind of thing,” says Chapman. “We hope we don’t see any of that, but in a way, we kinda hope they do see that so it drives the point home that people do take chances that they shouldn’t.”

Pew notes stopping a train isn’t quite the same as stopping an automobile.

“By the time something gets in front of the engineer and it’s not going to get out of the way, in many cases, it’s going to be too late for them to stop in time,” he says. “And if it’s a vehicle, he could strike that vehicle and potentially kill who’s inside.”

Jacksonville hasn’t had passenger rail service in decades, and Chapman calls it a rare treat for the people that rode yesterday.

“These are vintage passenger cars built in the 1940s that we have lovingly refurbished. We have two coaches,” he says.

Last year, 726 people either in motor vehicles or on foot were killed in accidents along the nation’s rail lines according to Federal Railroad Administration data. Illinois was where 25 of those deaths happened.

Yesterday’s train went from Springfield to Jacksonville, and departed Jacksonville for Hannibal, Missouri.