‘Operation Lifesaver’ tracks down improved railroad safety

Aboard the Mt. Hood Railroad, known for its Train Robbery and Murder Mystery and other fun excursions, one recent charter train had safety as its theme: Let safety cross your mind as you prepare to cross the railroad tracks.

The railroad devoted proceeds from a Hood River-Parkdale round trip to a long-haul project known as Operation Lifesaver, a statewide education program designed to improve public safety on rail tracks, at road crossings, and around railway property and facilities.

“We teach them a better respect for the railroad,” said Mrs. Oregon, Macy Bishop, as she joined 125 other people on the Oct. 18 benefit brunch train. Bishop passed out educational materials and signed photos. She is one of dozens of citizens trained as presenters, volunteers who speak about railroad safety to non-profit groups, senior citizen driving classes, elementary students, school bus drivers, and industry groups such as truck drivers.

In 1977 when Operation Lifesaver started, 149 people died in accidents between trains and motor vehicles and pedestrians. In 2002, the number was 20.

“Accidents are all preventable if people would just obey the law,” said its director, Everett Cutter. He said Operation Lifesaver addresses the “three E’s”: education, enforcement, and engineering. Presenters emphasize rules and procedures of highway crossings and railroad property, helping people understand the way trains and crossings interact.

“Education is aimed in part at people who might say they have nothing to do with the railroad,” said John Ross, a presenter who works as a special agent for Burlington Northern, which operates on the north side of the Columbia River. He said, “Yes, they do, anytime they are near a (railroad) gate crossing. There are points where people come into contact and potential points of contact.”

Operation Lifesaver funnels incident information from train personnel to law enforcement so they can plan enforcement at areas where violations or trespass are known to occur, and helps transportation authorities gather data it needs to make safety decisions — “E” for engineering.

“The program helps identify those areas that qualify for passive or active engineering — signs, lights, or gates,” said Terry Hardesty, public safety manager for Union Pacific, which is the main freight operator on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Operation Lifesaver’s outreach programs help provide authorities the information they need to make safety upgrades. State departments of transportation determine where signals will go, based on numbers of vehicles and collisions.

It is important to remember that railway lines are private property, notes Cutter.

“We try to tell people what can happen (along railroad tracks) and why, rather than ‘don’t do this’,” Cutter said.

“There are all sorts of other places to go and have fun,” said Bishop, who is Cutter’s daughter.

“Respect the laws, obey the gates,” said John Ross, who works as a special agent for Burlington Northern, the main freight operator on the north bank of the Columbia. “The gates are not there to make you late. They’re there for your safety,” Ross said.

Much outreach goes to emergency service workers, according to Hardesty, who in their haste to get to and from accidents have been known to endanger themselves and their injured passengers when approaching trains and crossings.

A typical problem is the jogger who is running on the tracks, headphones and music on, paying no attention to an oncoming train.

“They don’t think about it,” Ross said.

Another is the youth who thinks it will be fun to follow a slow-moving train as it shunts in a railyard, not realizing the “rubber band effect of the train connecting,” as Ross put it.

“You think the train is past you, but it can come rolling right back,” he said.

Ross explained that each train car has a separate braking system, allowing a running train to stop within a distance equal to its length. A train 500 feet long can stop within 500 feet. A train one mile long needs a mile to stop.

These are among the lessons provided by presenters, who are trained to have the tools, materials and approach to be effective public speakers. Educators are used in developing materials used by presenters.

Cutter credited education and enforcement cooperation between Operation Lifesaver and State Police on both sides of the river.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle,” Hardesty said of Operation Lifesaver as it tries to get the public to look at trains in a new way.

Ross acknowledges that trains are viewed as friendly, even romantic, but their bulk and speed require respect and caution.

“A train’s size gives the illusion of moving slowly. What it comes down to is most people aren’t used to dealing with a vehicle this size,” Ross said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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