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Respect the Train

Heather Redfern
SEPTA Public Information Manager

The images on TV news have been horrific - cars being crushed like soda cans and trains derailing because motorists tried to beat the grade crossing gate only to have their cars get stuck on train tracks. Or the blankets covering the bodies of those who thought they could take a shortcut across train tracks.

Last year, almost 1,000 people throughout the U.S. were injured or killed as a result of trespassing in the track area. These deaths and injuries could have been prevented - just by staying out of the railroad right of ways.

"Imagine walking down the middle of the Schuylkill Expressway or across the lanes of I-95. It's a life or death chance you'd never take," said SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey. "But as irrational as walking on a major highway seems, every day across our region, many people are making a similar risky decision by trespassing on train tracks."

To remind the public that tracks are for trains, not for people and cars, SEPTA dedicated the efforts of its third annual system-wide Safety Day to "Respect the Train". On April 29, 400 Authority employees distributed educational materials and answered safety questions at over 100 SEPTA rail, trolley and bus stations, loops and transportation centers throughout the Authority's five-county service area during the morning rush hour. Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATCO also joined SEPTA's initiative by handing out educational materials at their locations.

"Rail trespassing is one of the top safety issues for transit organizations across the country," said Scott Sauer, SEPTA's Chief System Safety Officer. "Having our peers from Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATCO participate in our Safety Awareness Day demonstrates the commitment the transportation industry has to stopping trespassing and avoiding collisions at highway grade crossings."

Amtrak Police Chief Polly Hanson, NJ Transit Office of System Safety Chief Gardner C. Tabon and PATCO General Manager John Rink joined Casey, Sauer, SEPTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel and State Representative Mike Vereb, a SEPTA Board member for a press conference at Overbrook Station.

"Sometimes we see our younger customers who think it's a game to have an interesting selfie and they try to top their friends by going in the track area," said Rink. "Tracks are not a game."

Respecting the train is also important for motorists, too, as seen in a rash of catastrophic grade crossing accidents across the country. "When the warning signals sound and lights flash indicating that the gates are closing, drivers should not speed up and try to pass under the crossing gates," said Sauer. "There are markers on the road that indicate the safest distance for vehicles to stop from the grade crossing when the gates are down."

To complement the Safety Day in-person outreach efforts, SEPTA produced a video that demonstrates the science and force of operating and stopping a train. The video was unveiled for Safety Day. "The 'Respect the Train' video demonstrates that people cars are no match for a moving train," said Knueppel. "I encourage everyone to go to the SEPTA website, watch the video and share this potentially lifesaving message with their families and friends."

The video can be viewed on the Authority's safety webpage and copies will be sent to local schools.

"SEPTA takes safety very seriously," said Vereb, who chairs the Authority Board's Safety and Security Committee."We are committed to that as a Board; we are committed to that as a committee. We hope that the community embraces our message."

"The tracks are the highways for our trains," said SEPTA GM Joe Casey at the Safety Awareness Day press conference.

Representative Mike Vereb chairs the SEPTA Board Safety and Security Committee.

Four hundred SEPTA employee volunteers handed out safety materials to customers at more than 100 SEPTA stations and transportation centers.

SEPTA was joined by Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATCO in Safety Awareness Day activities.

Safety Day messages were featured on all SEPTA vehicles, including this wrapped bus.