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Operation Clear Track sends strong rail safety message (7 photos)

Emergency responders partner to send the message - Stay off the tracks!

Every three hours in North America, there is an ‘incident’ at a railroad crossing, involving a vehicle or pedestrian. Those 'incidents' result in, on average, 750 fatalities per year, and 1,500 serious injuries.

In Ontario so far this year there have been 31 incidents involving vehicles and trains, resulting in 10 fatalities – and 10 involving 'trespass' by pedestrians, resulting in eight fatalities.

To raise awareness of the dangers of level crossings and highlight safety, rail operators across the continent participate in National Rail Safety week, this year taking place Sept. 23-29.

GO Transit has always taken part in the week-long safety initiative, said Director of Transit Safety with Metrolinx, Bill Grodzinski – but this year, the local passenger service decided to take it one step further, with a new campaign: Operation Clear Track.

Partnering with police services, fire and paramedics, Operation Clear Track is a two-day initiative, targeting commuters on the Barrie GO train line.

South Simcoe Police, BWG Fire & Emergency Services, Innisfil Fire & Rescue, and South Simcoe Paramedic Services joined Metrolinx and GO transit officials at the Bradford GO train station on Tuesday, to hand out rail safety information and deliver a united message: take care when crossing the tracks, don’t trespass on railway property, “and any time is train time,” said Grodzinski.

They were joined by Ontario Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney, who came out to support the initiative.

The plan was to have officials from each partnering agency ride the GO train south at the peak of the commute –  talking with passengers to promote rail safety  before participating in a press conference at the Rutherford GO station in Vaughan, that would also engage safety partners from the city of Barrie and York Region.

Unfortunately, there was a glitch in the plans. As if to illustrate the fact that trains don’t always run on schedule, and anytime is train time, the GO train that was supposed to carry Operation Clear Track participants south, was cancelled due to an equipment problem, resulting in a delay of over an hour.

The rail safety message still got out:

. Never walk, cycle or drive along railway tracks. Trains can go as fast as 160 kmph, and can take up to two kilometres to come to a complete stop. That’s equivalent to 18 football fields. And as one safety pamphlet noted, 'a train hitting a car is like a car running over a pop can.'

. Keep off railway property – not only rail lines, but yards, tunnels, and bridges. Its not just that trespassers can face a fine of up to $50,000, it’s dangerous, and potentially life-threatening. There may be no room and no time to react if a train is coming. Peter Moyla, Safety Officer, noted that it’s difficult to gauge the distance and speed of a train, and once the double tracks are in place on the Barrie line, “You won’t see the train coming.”

. Use only designated railway crossings. Trying to cross elsewhere could be deadly. Trains can come any time – and not always according to schedule.

. Obey all railway signs and signals, including lights, bells and gates. Stop behind the activated gates and stop lines, no closer than five metres from the nearest rail – and never try to outrun a train. Cross only after the warning signals have stopped, and you have checked for other approaching trains.

. Stay alert. Don’t be distracted by cell phones or other devices when in the vicinity of a railway crossing. You cant hear the warning whistle if you are wearing headphones.

. Keep your distance. Trains can overhang the tracks by as much as one metre on each side, and carry loads, chains, and straps that be wider than the rail cars themselves, posing a hazard.

The partnership model has been used before, by Metrolinx. “We used the same model for Fire Safety Week. It worked extremely well,” said Grodzinski, winning Metrolinx an award from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal.   

National Rail Safety Week generally sees engagement by 25 police services across Canada – “five of them here in Ontario,” said Grodzinski, including Barrie Police, South Simcoe, York Regional and Toronto Police services.

“It’s a real partnership with our friends at Metrolinx and GO Transit, as well as Paramedics and Fire,” said South Simcoe Police Chief Andrew Fletcher. He emphasized the danger posed by trains: “When a train strikes a vehicle, or a train strikes a pedestrian - you don’t get a second chance. It only takes a split second."

Fletcher added, "We’re asking people to be aware. You wouldn’t walk in the middle of the 400. Don’t walk on the tracks.”

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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