MARIETTA, Ga. – It was the Fourth of July, and the town square was packed with revelers waiting to see the evening’s fireworks display.
The town square was closed for the event, and the nearby railroad tracks were quiet – or so it seemed.
Before long, that unmistakable sound ruminated in the distance. The warning bells started to clang. Red lights flashed. The gates started to lower.
A locomotive with freight cars in tow started to round the corner. The engineer sounded the customary warning horns – long, long, short, long. At that moment, it became obvious to some pedestrians that they were on the wrong side of the tracks.
So, they made a break for it – in plain sight of the approaching locomotive.
Fortunately, this episode had a happy ending, but it underscores an important issue. Many motorists and pedestrians are either oblivious to the dangers of railroad crossings or think they won’t fall victims to the dangers.
“Many Americans have no idea that walking or playing around train tracks, fishing from a railroad bridge, or riding their all-terrain vehicle on railroad tracks is potentially deadly, and always illegal,” Helen M. Sramek, president of Operation Lifesaver Inc., said in a news release.
Numbers from the Federal Railroad Administration show that the number of rail trespassers who died increased in 2008. More than 870 people were either injured or killed “in railroad-related trespassing incidents,” statistics show. There have been more than 9,000 such incidents over the past decade.
“Unfortunately, railroad trespass fatalities continue to occur far too often,” Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said in a news release. Numbers show that 18-34 year olds account for roughly 36 percent of all rail-related pedestrian casualties in 2008.