November 1, 2012

SLHS students learn about railroad safety

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — With the rise of railroad accidents, South Laurel High School students learned some facts that could save lives.

Matt Tolliver with Norfolk and Southern Railroad and Operation Life Saver spoke to Driver’s Ed students at SLHS last week to discuss facts — and dispel myths — about railroad safety.

“He said that you are 20 times more likely to be killed or severely injured by a train crash than by a car crash,” said Caprecia Sizemore, Family Resource Center director.

But train-related accidents can be easily prevented by simply knowing a few important facts.

First of all, walking on railroad tracks is illegal and playing on rail equipment, tracks or railcars is considered trespassing and is subject to arrest or prosecution. And the presumption that you will be safe unless you are walking between the rails is a false myth that can result in injury or death. The reality is that trains often overhang the rails by three feet on each side and straps hanging from freight cars pose even more danger.

If the lights at a railroad crossing are flashing but the gates are not down, a train is still coming. It is illegal to go around lowered gates.

“There are fewer accidents at a crossing where they are no gates than those where gates are used,” Sizemore said. “That is a fact that surprised me.”

While few people like being held up by a passing train, Tolliver reminded students that waiting until a train is completely past is another way to prevent accidents. Often, he said, a second train may be hidden from view of motorists while the first train goes by. “Always expect a train” is a rule the Operation Lifesaver stresses to all motorists.

Even on dry tracks, it takes trains nearly a mile to come to a full stop. Even semi-trucks and school buses have a shorter stop time than a train, another point Tolliver stressed to students during the presentation.

“I think this is an excellent program. I really wish we could have the program for all students of driving age,” Sizemore added. “It was compelling to me as an adult. The presentation brought awareness.”

Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit international public education program established in 1972 to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad right-of-ways. It is supported by federal, state and local government agencies, highway safety organizations, law enforcement, and the nation’s railroads and their supporters.

The certified volunteer speakers give presentations to people of all professions and age groups. For more information, visit their website at or call 1-800-537-6224.