Railroad safety still an issue on campus

Illinois leads country in railroad deaths. Organizations work together to raise awareness.

Gina Akers, Daily Vidette Senior Staff

 

While many people know the dangers of walking on railroad tracks or crossing at an unauthorized crosswalk, some ISU students may continue to practice the risky and illegal habit.

"It's against the law, but more important than that you have to be aware of the danger railroads present," Ed McKibbin, students' attorney in the Dean of Students office, said.

McKibbin said he has had students in his office who have been cited for trespassing on the tracks and did not know it is illegal.

"The university, Illinois Commerce Commission and the Town of Normal work together to make sure signs are put up to address the issue," he said. "The new signs state that it is a violation of state law to trespass on the railroad tracks."

"Unfortunately, we followed up and noticed there is still a trespass issue."

"It's a non-stop crusade to make students aware," he added. "The ISU Police have been actively involved as well in promoting railroad safety and trying to make students aware that if you trespass you will get cited for violating the law."

McKibbin also explained that it is an enhanceable offense, which means the penalty becomes greater after each citation.

Chip Pew, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, said they have worked closely with the Normal Police, ISU Police, Union Pacific Railroad and the university to promote being safe near the railroad. They have passed out fliers in an effort to make students aware of the law.

"We've also followed that up with an unannounced enforcement effort. We have issued $150 court appearance citations to remind students," he said. "From the student's perspective it seems silly and that we're picking on them, coming up with ways of trying to raise money. That's not true."

"The purpose is to remind students [that] if you're not paying attention and a train comes, you're probably going to get hit and die. That is the painful reminder of that."

According to the Village of Lake Bluff's Web site, 474 railroad trespassers died nationwide last year, with Illinois leading the country in railroad deaths.

"A trespasser is defined as somebody that's either crossing the tracks or walking along the tracks at a place other than a public crossing or authorized crosswalk," Pew said.

Pew said about 30 people die while trespassing, 20 to 30 die each year in a public crossing and between 12 and 20 take their own lives on the tracks.

"With the construction right by [Watterson] it presents a little bit of a challenge because the kids can't walk through the construction site from Fell to Broadway," Pew said. "It does seem valid and easier for the students to walk down the right of way down the tracks."

"Yet they could just as easily cross the street and walk down [Irving]. It's not as easy, it's not as convenient, but it's safer."

McKibbin and Pew both emphasized that even though trespassing on railroads is illegal, they are most concerned with students' safety.

"It's about keeping students alive," Pew said. "We all share in the responsibility of students' safety. If they're not going to care about their own safety we will do it for them."

 

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