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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Program cautions: Look, listen and live at railroad crossings

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A bicycle narrowly misses getting hit by a train Wednesday while passing through a crossing with the lights flashing and gates down
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Motorists driving through railroad crossings on Tuesday and Wednesday may have had a bit of a shock if they saw the flashing lights of a patrol car and a person approaching their vehicle with a pamphlet.

But they weren't in trouble. They just got information about railroad crossing safety, presented by Missouri Operation Lifesaver. And those who were buckled up received a coupon for a free drink from Sonic Drive-In.

"Most were pleasantly surprised," said Sgt. Dale Moreland of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "We want to make sure they look, listen and live."

While in the different towns in Scott, New Madrid and Stoddard counties, among others, the personnel changed locations after about 30 minutes to give the message to more people.

"We tried to pick crossings near the main streets of town," said Dickie McClendon, an OL presenter. "Hopefully they'll read it and say 'hey, I got some good information here,'" he said of the pamphlets.

The pamphlets included information about the warning signs and devices and tricks to stay safe.

"A lot of them said they always stop," Moreland said. "But we know that's not the case."

And the safety rules don't apply just to motorists, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well. For instance, an adult riding a bicycle crossed a set of tracks in front of a coal train while personnel were at the Ruth Street crossing in Sikeston. Officials grimaced when they saw how close the male was to an accident.

Danny Tankersley and Gary Bentley, both BNSF engineers and OL presenters, said they have a feeling of helplessness when they see someone cross just before the train.

"When we're on the engine, there's really nothing else we can do," Tankersley said.

A train traveling at 20 miles per hour, as most do in towns, takes about a half-mile to slow down, he continued.

"I can't swerve a train to avoid hitting someone," Bentley said. "There's nothing I can do."

On a trip from Chaffee to Memphis, Tenn., 20 to 30 people normally run around the signals, Tankersley said. "So there is a problem."

McClendon said the group often gives presentations to schools, churches and other groups. "We're just here to remind the public and hopefully catch their attention," he said.

Several accidents are a result of people being in too much of a hurry to wait for a train to pass by, McClendon said. But Tankersley pointed out that someone would typically have to wait between three and eight minutes to pass through the crossing. "And that's nothing compared to your life," McClendon said.

And officials try to create barriers to stop people from passing through, it just doesn't work. For instance, McClendon pointed out half of all the accidents occur at scenes with lights or gates. "The gates are there for a reason," he said. "When the gates are down, don't go around."

There have also been accidents with a stalled train slipping loads. Tankersley said several pedestrians attempt to travel through the cracks and get to the other side.

And the people having accidents aren't unfamiliar to the crossings. "Most of the accidents occur within 25 miles of the home," McClendon said. "They will usually occur at the grade crossing you cross the most."

Officials suggested motorists slow down, use common sense and be aware when around the crossings. "When you come to railroad tracks, expect the traffic of trains," Bentley said. "There's no set schedule -- we run 24/7."

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For more information, go to www.showmeol.org.