FLOYD COUNTY —
Community leaders and public safety officials from around the region boarded the Norfolk Southern Operation Lifesaver Whistle-Stop train last week and traveled from New Albany to Huntingburg while learning about railroad safety.
The train stopped at the Floyd County YMCA Friday morning and picked up about 70 passengers for its last leg of the railroad-safety campaign.
The mobile initiative began in Buffalo, N.Y., on April 8 and made stops in 13 cities in five states, passing through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and traversing 567 miles of railroad.
Two churning locomotives pulled the rail cars, including an exhibit car fashioned from a 1926 Pullman passenger car, which was converted to a mobile museum in 1971. The exhibit car included information on the history of Norfolk Southern and interactive games geared at educating patrons on railroad safety.
Officials were seated in several restored passenger cars, each equipped with several flatscreen televisions which provided a real-time, engineer's view of the oncoming tracks from a camera positioned on the front of the locomotive.
Norfolk Southern officials handed out literature and shared safety information with the elected officials and first responders invited to participate in the event.
New Albany Fire Chief Matt Juliot and several of the department’s firefighters were on board the train as the Southern Indiana landscape passed by through the cars’ large windows.
“It is very interesting,” Juliot said of the unique safety campaign. “We deal a lot in public safety with train incidents, from large incidents of derailments to smaller incidents of public citizens being injured on a railroad. This is a nice program where we can come aboard and see what they see every day while on the job.”
While the campaign teaches community leaders about train safety, Juliot said he and other officials are looking to apply those safety principles to create a safer infrastructure in New Albany.
Juliot said New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan had asked him to speak with Norfolk Southern officials about the possible installation of a railroad pedestrian crosswalk near the floodwall entrance of the Riverfront Amphitheater.
“During our city festivals or times when we have a large group of people at the river, it has always been a concern of fire and police departments of people crossing and having no barrier to keep someone from walking out onto the track,” Juliot said. “And we have had people hit there in the past.”
New Albany City Council member Shirley Baird was also aboard the train, and said she found the experience educational.
“I think it is a wonderful idea,” Baird said.
She also said the public isn’t educated enough about railroad safety.
“You see people all the time who try to beat the trains,” Baird said. “They don’t realize how fast they are coming or how long they take to stop. Everybody needs to know more about train safety.”
Like Juliot, Baird also said the area in New Albany where train tracks lie by the flood wall is cause for concern, especially during community events like Harvest Homecoming.
“It is very scary if you think about it,” she said of the dangers of when people don’t have respect for passing trains.
Baird also said she would like to see more outreach programs at area schools to educate children on train safety at an early age.
Jeffersonville City Council member Bryan Glover was one of the few Clark County representatives who participated in the awareness event.
“This year’s safety campaign was probably one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “I have had the opportunity to take part in these outings in the past, and I think it is a great way for railroads to heighten awareness for city officials and public-safety personnel and make people aware of the issues that railroads, engineers and conductors face out here every day.”
Glover said the event is especially prudent, as railroad trespassing across the nation is on the rise.
“Anything they can do to heighten awareness is a good thing,” he said.
Glover said the Norfolk Southern Operation Lifesaver campaign is one piece to a comprehensive approach to railroad safety.
He said a next step is making sure the public is aware of safety precautions and trespassing laws, and to prosecute accordingly if those laws are broken.
“A lot of times people don’t understand, ‘When you don’t obey the law, it ends up in fatality,’” he said. “And that’s the last thing you want.”