'Trains can't swerve'

Trying to beat a train often the last mistake


By Tara Fasol, The Southern

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 11:02 PM CDT


BENTON - Franklin County residents were among many riding the rails Tuesday afternoon as Union Pacific Railroad pulled north out of Benton on a passenger train headed for a scenic ride with a serious lesson.

Safety Manager Kevin Dawson handed out books with information and welcomed everyone aboard about 2:30 p.m. near the intersection of Webster Street and the railroad tracks running north and south through town.

Several passenger cars filled with residents, city officials and community leaders headed toward Ina while Dawson shared information on the importance of being cautious while going across railroad crossings.

"The reference point for you to judge the speed of a train is different than that with an automobile," Dawson explained, noting the height and weight of the locomotive and its cars. "I have been doing this for 30 years, and I can't judge how fast a train is going."

In the informational book offered to passengers, it was noted that Illinois has 70 railroads. About 1,500 trains, or 40,000 rail cars, move on about 7,200 miles of track. There are about 8,300 public crossings.

"Trains can't swerve," Dawson said. "Automobiles have to yield the right-of-way every time."

The weight difference between a train and an automobile is about that of an automobile to a 12-ounce soda can, he said.

"What would happen if you ran over a can of soda with your car?" he asked. "That's what will happen if a train hits you."

After the lesson in train safety, passengers were allowed to roam about the compartments and check out the perks of riding the rails.

The locomotive pulling the cars to the north was then shut down and the train engineer and conductor moved to the south of the train to a second locomotive, which pulled the train back to its starting point.

On the ride back, Chip Pew, Illinois Operation Lifesaver Coordinator with the Illinois Commerce Commission, shed some light on the program aimed at rail safety.

"People want it to be their choice," he said about a great number of drivers who try and "beat" the trains. "It is your choice. If you choose wrong, though, you don't get any more choices. They should think that if they aren't right, they are going to end up dead."

Pew said the program Tuesday was aimed at bringing awareness to making good decisions about driving near tracks and to offer a more intimate look at the rail life to residents in several communities with tracks.