CP Rail Extra 9019 east prepares for departure from Farnham, Quebec, on November 24, 1992. Behind Calgary-based SD40-2F No. 9019 is railway technology exhibit car 91 (converted from RDC-2 9108) and business car "Wentworth". Photo by Raymond Farand.
It's a scene that's played out all too frequently on a Canada-wide stage. The night is black. Inside a darkened locomotive cab, the head-end crew is bathed in the faint yellowish-green light of the speedometer's glowing LED's. As the engineman and his running mate gaze intently into the darkness, distant level crossing protection has just been activated by their approaching train. Flashing pin-points of white light verify that everything appears to be functioning normally.
An instant after entering the crossing circuit, another pair of light's draws the crew's attention to the presence of a motor vehicle approaching the tracks from the engineman's side. It's a clear night, and as the vehicle shows signs of slowing down, there's no question that the driver is well aware of the train's presence.
As the motorist's forward momentum brings him ever closer to the tracks, the sound of a clanging bell and a purposeful 14L rise above the muffled roar of the locomotive's sixteen cylinder power plant. Things don't feel right as the second engineman stiffens in his seat and shouts out above the din, "He's gonna go!" The big diesel's horn is now blaring out a sharp repeated warning to the motorist who is clearly visible in the glare of the engine's headlights. An instant later the "VIA" slices through the level crossing at track speed with a potential statistic safely stopped only a few feet away from the right of way. As the tension subsides and the F40PH-2's bell cycles into silence, the hogger looks over at his mate and calmly exclaims, "He was thinking 'bout it!" The trip continues with no further mention of the close call. Such occurrences are dealt with almost routinely by railway employees all across the country, but there's no doubt that over the years it takes its toll. Is it any wonder that grade crossings give many in the running trades premature grey hair?
This particular incident had a happy ending because the rules of the road were obeyed, thus avoiding the addition of another statistic to an ever growing list of level crossing casualties. Arguably, weather conditions do on occasion play a determining role in such matters, but more often than not it's a motorist's carelessness or complete disregard of an approaching train that results in a tragic end to an otherwise avoidable accident. Education of the motoring public is, and will continue to be extremely important, if attitudes about trains are to change as we approach the year 2000.
People perceive trains as slow moving ...
The general misconception that trains in Canada do not operate at high speeds, when they operate at all, can sometimes lead to deadly consequences. In fact, a recent Angus Reid nationwide survey on level-crossing accidents identified some chilling statistics. While 61% of those surveyed encounter level crossings occasionally or often, and 11% per cent said that they had at some time been - or nearly been - involved in a level-crossing accident, 72% think that the maximum speed for trains is less than 80 km/h, and 55% less than 50 km/h. Trains travel up to 155 km/h, but perceptual psychologists have shown that because of trains' large size, people perceive them as moving at only a fraction of their true speed. As well, 41% think that all crossings are equipped with flashing lights or signals and gates. Finally, 20% of Canadians think that crossing accidents are the train's fault, although trains always have the right of way.
Changing public opinion represents a formidable challenge, but's it's one that the professionals behind "Operation Lifesaver" accept and pursue with great determination. For those of you not aware of Operation Lifesaver and its mandate, it is a project of The Railway Association of Canada and of Transport Canada, in cooperation with The Canada Safety Council and the provincial safety councils/leagues around the country, dedicated to educating the general public about the dangers of level crossings and trespassing near railway tracks.
Crossing Accidents and Casualties 1981-1992
(Crossings include: public,private and farm crossings)
Trespasser Incidents and casualties 1980-1992
A review of statistics compiled to mid-November of this year (see tables), demonstrates that Operation Lifesaver continues to impact upon the public's awareness of railways in Canada. The number of crossing accidents this year has declined and shows signs of finishing the year considerably lower than the figures posted in 1991. With a little luck, they even improve upon the 1990 national of 386, the lowest on record since the tion of the program back in 1981. The er of reported injuries resulting from ng accidents has also declined about fifty it during the same period. Figures associated with trespasser mts and casualties over the past 12 years so encouraging and for the most part are ig steady. The challenge of educating lublic with respect to the dangers of issing is probably an even more difficult ban that associated with grade crossings, se in many instances the trespasser is an scent. A growing number of today's is living through difficult times, ing in a certain unpredictability of action is hard for the Railways to defend 3t. As I write this article I am dismayed ecent press clipping from "La Presse", a real french language daily, dated nber 27, 1992. The newspaper reports uicide pact between two teenage girls, 14 5 years old. Authorities believe that they themselves in front of a passing train Longueuil, a city located across the St. Mice River from Montreal. Undoubtedly sarly impossible to prevent deaths such s from occurring.
Officer on the Train" introduced ...
In its quest for new and imaginative ways of capturing the public's attention on matters of railway safety, the industry has recently introduced Canadian motorists to a new level crossing safety program called "Officer on the Train". Initially introduced in the United States in 1987, it has now been endorsed by Canada's major railway companies including those responsible for Operation Lifesaver. The program's goal is to reinforce public awareness of the dangers presented by grade crossings through a vigorous campaign designed to lay charges against traffic law violators who choose to ignore activated crossing warning devices, i.e. flashing lights, bells and barriers. It is hoped that the financial implications of such irresponsible actions, specifically a fine, will accelerate the learning process. Here's how it works.
Officers from the provincial police force, along with officers the home railway's own investigation department, climb aboard the lead locomotive of a train operating over a selected subdivision. With the help of a video camera they observe and record evidence of motorists breaking the law as they cross in front of the approaching train. Immediately after an infraction occurred the law enforcement official radios a description of vehcle, along with its direction of travel, to fellow officers in patrol cars strategically located near selected crossings along the train's route. The motorist is stopped and issued with either a warning or a ticket. Tickets can carry a fine of as much as $200 per infraction along with a loss of between three and nine demerit points.
Seven infractions over 64 miles ...
On November 24, 1992, the "Officer on the Train / Policier á bord program was introduced for the first time to the province of Quebec, after a successful debut in Ontario earlier this same year. CP Rail System, with the close participation of the Sureté du Quebec, six municipal police forces from the Eastern Townships region of the province and Operation Lifesaver, collaborated to operate a special train over portions of the Adirondack and Sherbrooke Subdivisions between the communities of Farnham and Sherbrooke, Quebec. This area was identified as a prime location for such an exercise in part due to the fact that between January 1, 1989, and the beginning of November 1992, there had been nine near misses or accidents between the two urban centres, over a stretch of track that contains 37 mechanized (protected) level crossings. The accidents resulted in two fatalities and eight injuries, involving several vehicle types including private automobiles, trucks and school buses.
The special train consisted of DRF-30y (GMD SD40-2F) locomotive 9019, railway technology exhibit car 91 (nee RDC-2 9108), and business car "Wentworth". Members of the media were invited aboard to ensure that the safety message was transmitted to the general public. A video camera was located in the cab of the locomotive with a feed to a monitor in the RDC 91. This enabled guests and railway officials alike a view of the operation as it unfolded "live" in front of the advancing train. Both your president David Stremes and I found the concept to be most interesting and effective, as I will describe later.
The train departed Farnham at 09:09 and followed a schedule which saw it arrive at the station in Sherbrooke approximately an hour and a half later, some 64 track miles to the east. Some of the CPRS representatives on board included Acting Assistant Superintendent, Y. Perron; Deputy Superintendent, J. Serena; Director of Public Safety Awareness, G.D. McKechnie; and Quebec Division Accident Prevention Coordinator, S. Gallagher. Other VIP's included the National Director for Operation Lifesaver, Benoit Levesque; Sureté du Quebec Commandant, T. McDonald; and various officials from Transport Canada, Transport Quebec and the "Ligue de securité du Quebec".
By all accounts, the exercise lived up to everyone's expectations. As a result of the day's efforts, seven infractions were witnessed by officials, and recorded on video tape. This resulted in the issuing of six traffic tickets, each in the amount of $100. Along with the fine each surprised driver lost three demerit points. Hopefully the one driver that got away, presumably due to logistical problems, saw the report on the late night news and will be more careful the next time he's approaching railway tracks. Authorities are confident that word of the event will spread quickly after the various news media air or publish their reports throughout the province.
So motorists "beware", the next time you cross-over the line, you may end up paying the fine.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, January 1993, page 20.