Macomb County Sheriff’s Office deputies handed out informational cards to motorists at local railroad crossings during Rail Safety Week.

Macomb County Sheriff’s Office deputies handed out informational cards to motorists at local railroad crossings during Rail Safety Week.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Initiative all aboard for railroad safety

By: Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published October 4, 2018


MACOMB COUNTY — Just because they’re big, loud and travel on a track doesn’t mean trains cannot pose an immediate danger.

According to the Federal Railroad Association, there were 2,105 highway/rail grade crossing collisions nationally in 2017.

Michigan accounted for 54 of those collisions, which included 18 injuries and five deaths.

“Most people don’t realize that every three hours, someone or something is struck by a train,” said Sam Crowl, coordinator for Michigan Operation Lifesaver. “The results can be devastating and deadly.”

Crowl said some of the most common violations are failure to stop at railroad crossings and trespassing.

“Most of the time, a collision is when a vehicle runs into the side of the train because either they’re not paying attention or they slid on icy conditions,” Crowl said, adding that many of the latter occur in the Upper Peninsula due to the colder weather.

Crowl recalled an instance of a younger man getting hit by a train while walking on a set of tracks listening to music through headphones.

“Watching the recording — trains all have cameras — you could see he didn’t see the train or even hear the train as it was blowing its whistle.”

In an effort to lower the statistics and raise awareness about the potential dangers of driving near railroad crossings and trespassing — walking — on tracks, Amtrak, through the Operation Lifesaver organization, recruited 460 U.S. law enforcement agencies to participate in Operation Clear Track during Rail Safety Week Sept. 23-29.

Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization whose goal is to reduce collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and trespassing on or near railroad tracks.

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office took part in the initiative on Sept. 25, with deputies stationed for three hours at two Macomb County railroad crossings: Hall Road near Vic Wertz Drive on both the Macomb Township and Clinton Township sides, and Elizabeth Road and Madison Avenue in Mount Clemens.

There are more than 60 active rail crossings and miles of tracks in Macomb County.

“This was a nationwide initiative and, of course, anytime we can educate and be part of making the roadways safe, we will do that,” said Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham.

Operation Clear Track was also an effort to enforce railroad grade crossing and trespassing laws.

Wickersham said that during the one-day campaign, deputies issued one warning and handed out 22 railroad safety information cards.

Crowl said only a handful of Michigan agencies provided the results of their local campaigns. He said two tickets were issued in Bay City and four in Saginaw to individuals not following driving laws around rail crossings.

“If we heard nothing back, well, obviously compliance is a good thing. I’m glad they didn’t. Maybe people are being compliant,” he said. “But some of them (law enforcement officers) were a bit obvious to motorists.

“It was successful, and we intend to do it for years to come.”

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