CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - U.S. Rail Safety Week is underway Sept. 24 through 30.
Tuesday, Sept. 26, "Operation Clear Track" kicked off in Craighead County.
This event was a one-day, three-hour movement to raise awareness and enforce railroad crossing and trespass laws with people.
Officers were stationed at targeted railroad crossings, handing out railroad safety cards to motorists and pedestrians.
"This is our first ever US Rail Safety Week," Executive Director of Arkansas Operation Lifesaver, Sheryl Dudley said. "Today is the actual day for Operation Clear Track. We are working with special agents from Amtrack and local law enforcement."
Representatives with Arkansas Operation Lifesaver joined forces with local, state, federal and railroad law enforcement officers to make this event possible.
Dudley said they created the event to try and get ahead of the problem.
"Our numbers are rising," Dudley said. "Two years ago, Arkansas was in the top fifteen in the United States for fatalities. The last two years the numbers have been down, but we want to be proactive. We need to be proactive and prevent some of these injuries and fatalities at railroad crossings."
Deputy Sheriff Randy Sharp with the Craighead County Sheriff's Department said he was proud to be a part of the event and help.
"I think it's a good thing," Sharp said. "It's educating the people and drivers, there's a lot of railroad tracks in Craighead County. Having worked several train accidents in the last few years, if we can prevent one it's a success."
"That train is moving at 55 miles per hour," Dudley said. "If you take a car and a coke can, that's the same ratio. You run over a coke can with your car, it's the same thing with a train hitting your car. That train is going to take a mile or more to stop. It's going to stop after it has hit you."
"Two of the biggest causes of the accidents," Sharp said. "One is trying to beat the train. Not taking the time to stop and think they can beat it. Two is they're distracted. They're messing with their phone, playing with the radio or maybe they come up to the track and forget to look both ways before going over the tracks."
Trumann resident Katie Martin said she was happy with the police presence she pulled up to.
"I'm so glad," Martin said. "I've been here many times sitting at the light and vehicles in front of me stop at the sign and then they proceed on through over the railroad track and then turn right at the next red light. The officers definitely need to be here. It's scary."
In 2016, a total of 33 people were injured or killed at railroad crossings.
Four killed and seven were injured from trespassing.
A total of 33 incidents with vehicles, 11 fatal and 22 non-fatal.
"That's eleven people that didn't get to go home to their families," Dudley said. "And that is our major goal. To save those lives and get people home to their families."
Dudley said there have been 11 incidents this year, so far.
"You've definitely got people trying to beat the train," Dudley said. "But it's also a distraction. And a lot of our numbers are going up in trespassing. Because people are walking along the tracks, taking shortcuts. You can't hear with those headphones on. Even in our cars. Do you realize how quiet our cars are now? When you come up to a crossing, slow down. I don't know about you, but I always look just in case. And make sure nothing is coming. And trains move in both directions. So, just slow down, look and listen."
Dudley said many people are unaware that when they walk down the tracks, they're on private property.
"Railroad property is private property," Dudley said. "Nobody should be on it. Trains are bigger and faster than you realize. And they do a lot of damage. And we would really like to save those lives today. And I think by getting out here with our local police officers.
An important piece of information Dudley stressed was the emergency number found at every railroad crossing you can call if you get into trouble.
"There is a number on all of these crossings," Dudley said. "It's called the ENS. It's on all the crossings in the United States. It's the blue sign. If you ever get stuck on the tracks, get out of your car. Look for that sign with the number on it. You call that number, it sends a message to the railroad and gets in touch with the police and lets them know that you're there and they can get the train stopped in time."
Deputy Sheriff Sharp said he hoped the event would cause more people to be careful at railroad crossings.
"When you come to that railroad track," Sharp said. "Stop and look both ways. Stop, look and listen. Look for the train because you can stop. The train necessarily takes up to a mile for it to stop. They have signal lights on the front of the train. When they get within so many feet, they start blowing their horn. So, stop, look, listen, roll your windows down, turn the radio down. Just give it a second. What's a second worth for the rest of your life."
For a list of Grade Crossing Safety Tips and Railroad Trespassing from Operation Lifesaver, click here.
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