Rail safety week returns to Hastings

By Bruce Karnick
Posted 9/29/23

Operation Lifesaver – Rail Safety Education promotes rail safety week for the week of September 18-24 this year. Rail safety week features seven themed days to bring awareness to the fact that …

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Rail safety week returns to Hastings


Operation Lifesaver – Rail Safety Education promotes rail safety week for the week of September 18-24 this year. Rail safety week features seven themed days to bring awareness to the fact that every three hours, either a pedestrian or a vehicle is struck by a train in the United States. That is nearly 3,000 accidents per year between a train and something external. Hastings has three very busy train crossings, 2nd Street East, 10th Street East and 18th Street East, and the close proximity of the tracks along public roads and trails, bringing attention to this again this year in Hastings makes sense.

Tuesday, local officials joined CP Rail officials in supporting their ‘See Tracks, Think Trains’ promotion. The entire thought process is to bring awareness to stopping track tragedies by reminding people that train tracks require people to be alert and they should be expecting a train. This was evident during last year’s gathering.

The interesting piece about last year’s presentation was an accidental demonstration of just how quiet a train is in the grand scheme of environmental noises.  According to a Purdue University study, a diesel train traveling 45 mph is 83 dB (decibels) 100 feet away, which is less than an average food blender at 88 dB. A lawn mower is 70 times as loud as a train at 100 dB. 70 dB is the base level for arbitrary noise such as a vacuum or normal TV audio. The upper 70’s is where people become annoyed. The fan in this reporter’s office is right around 59-60 dB and that is a nice background noise. Typing with the meter on the desk inches away from the keyboard maxed out at 70 but was averaging 64-66 dB. That means 83 dB, is 30 times louder than loud a vacuum, yes decibel math is weird.

And remember, that 83 dB is at 45 miles per hour and at 100 feet away. At 55 mph, it takes the average freight train over a mile to stop. The average freight train is 18 football fields long, or about 1-1.5 miles long. Once the engineer hits the brakes, the caboose of the train will be closer to the stopping point than the engine will be.

For comparison, a lightweight car at 55 mph takes 200 feet to stop in perfect conditions, a commercial van or bus needs 230 feet, a commercial truck takes 300 feet. That is the length of Todd Field for a commercial truck. A train that hits the brakes at Todd Field will be all the way up Highway 55 by Tires Plus, maybe Taco Bell, depending on conditions and load.

Trains are moving faster than you think. Even the accidental demonstration train looked to be barely moving and it was moving between 5-10 mph. At that speed, there were zero issues holding a conversation 15 feet from the train. The same cannot be said about a 30-foot box truck that drove by earlier. Trains are sneaky quiet until they blow their horn.

Micki Mair, CP Rail Police Officer spoke about the theme for the day to reinforce the message.

“When you are near tracks always expect to train. Don't play on the tracks, don't cross the tracks unless it's an actual crossing. We just look for the community to be safe and be aware of their surroundings when they're on the tracks,” she said.

An important piece of information for the three rail crossings in Hastings is, the only crossing designated as a quiet crossing is 2nd Street. That designation is still relatively new with the needed gates installed in 2008- 2009. 10th Street and 18th Street are normal crossings. At normal crossings, there are rules related to the need for a horn to be blown. Quiet crossings only require the use of the train’s bell.

Other pieces of safety week involve topics like photographers using train tracks as a spot for Senior pictures or other pictures. In October of 2019, a 17-year-old was killed while having his senior pictures taken on the tracks owned by Union Pacific.

“It is illegal. It's trespassing and it's very dangerous. Trains do not always run on schedules. They can be in any area at any time. So even if it's a track that's not frequently used setting up for senior pictures, there could be a train coming through that day since there is no schedule, so we don't like to see the senior pictures, family pictures, any type of pictures on or near railroad tracks,” said Mair.

Train tracks, unless clearly documented as decommissioned, should never be used for photos.

As mentioned above, trains are oddly quiet compared to other things, so a train at 45 mph will be on top of the picture spot quickly and without much warning. Remember, an accident with a train happens every three hours, the best way to not be part of that statistic is to not put yourself in a compromising position.

To learn more about Operation Lifesaver’s Rail Safety Week, visit www.oli.org.