Shelbyville Daily Union

May 6, 2014

Union Pacific Safety Train Visits Shelbyville

John Carswell For the Daily Union
Shelbyville Daily Union

---- — It has been a long time since a passenger train came through Shelbyville, but it happened on Thursday last week. This special train came on a very special mission—to teach train safety through Union Pacific’s Operation Lifesaver.

A delegation from Shelbyville boarded the train at the 9th street crossing and soon began a leisurely trip to Findlay. The train stopped for around 30 minutes for the educational lectures and then returned to Shelbyville for another short run to Clarksburg and back.

The UP Cares Public Safety Train included three passenger cars: the Challenger, City of Salina and Cheyenne. It sometimes includes up to nine cars, but was limited to three for the smaller audience. The Challenger is the domed, scenic view car; the City of Salinas car contains additional seating plus kitchen, bathrooms and sleeping quarters. The Cheyenne is the business car, complete with flat screen TV, sofas, meeting room and other seating.

Passengers on board included a delegation from Lake Shelbyville Corps of Engineers, city councilman Bill Shoaff and wife Debbie, Mayor Jeff Johnson, teacher Stephanie Shoaff and around a dozen driver’s education students from Shelbyville High School and others.

The idea of the program is that one way to learn about train safety is to actually be on one, with many on board having their first train ride.

UP Manager of Public Safety, Kevin Dawson, still holds an engineer’s degree before becoming Manager of Public Safety. Dawson said that from the engineer’s perspective, being involved in a fatal accident is extremely traumatic.

“Once it happens, you can never erase it. It’s such a tragedy to have that happen. They are just taking their train from point A to B, not wanting anything bad to happen in between. Some are so devastated they don’t return to work.”

In the domed car, Union Pacific Administrative Aide Joyce Williams presented the safety lecture. Williams pointed out that trains create optical illusions -- their massive size and angle of approach make them appear to be moving slower than they are. “I grew up in Mississippi and our house was less than 50 yards from the tracks. One day my sister thought she would jump on a train, they are so big and don’t look like they are moving fast. Well, when she got up close to that train, it almost blew her clothes off! She was very lucky.”

Williams also threw out a trick question to the students. “Where is the steering wheel located on a train?” Some responded that it was in the engineers cab. “Wrong,” smiled Williams. “There IS no steering wheel on a train. A train cannot swerve.”

So why the push for train safety? There are many good reasons.

Illinois has the second-largest train system in the country – more than 40,000 cars traveling every day over 7,400 miles of tracks. In Shelbyville, a train goes through town approximately once each hour. Illinois also ranks third in the nation for collisions (125) and fatalities (16).

“The numbers for Illinois are much better than they used to be, but we feel through this program we can do much better. Our objective is zero,” added Dawson.

There are two kinds of crossings: active and passive. Active crossings have automated flashing lights and barricades. Passive crossings, like on rural roads, only have a railroad crossing sign and flashing lights. The old adage, Stop, Look and Listen still holds true, but has been changed to the more emphatic, “Look, Listen and Live.”

Roughly every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train – Operation Lifesaver focuses on the three E's: education, engineering and enforcement.

To drive home the point, Operation Safety has coined several easy-to-remember phrases into their campaign: Stay Off, Stay Away, Stay Alive; See Tracks? Think Train.

Williams also pointed out that trains overhang the tracks for at least three feet on each side and that railroad property extends for 25 feet on either side of the tracks. If you are on the tracks at any place other than a crossing or on railroad property, you are breaking the law and could be ticketed and/or fined.

Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) investigator Chip Pew also participated in the lecture. Pew has the somber duty of investigating train incidents, many of which are fatal.

Williamson and Pew shared that even with emergency braking; the average 12 million-pound freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour will take approximately one mile, or the length of 18 football fields, to stop. A car only takes 200 feet to stop and a semi truck only 300 feet. When a train collides with a vehicle it's like a car running over a can of soda pop. If your car gets stuck on the tracks, get out and go in the opposite direction of the point of impact – 45 degrees in the direction the train is coming from. The reason is to get out of the path of debris. It will be scattered to the sides and down the tracks as the train drags it along.

Shelbyville freshman Caylee Wheeler has been on trains before, but heard some things she did not know about train safety. “I thought that being in the upper level (domed car) was very exciting and fun. I learned a ton of train safety facts that I didn't know. I did not know that 25 feet from each side of the tracks is railroad property. Also, I learned that it is illegal to cross the tracks anywhere but an actual train crossing.”

Another freshman, Tessa Bland, remarked, “This was my first time on a train. It was fun and fantastic. But I learned trains are dangerous and you can be hurt very badly.”

For more information about train safety, or to schedule a lecture for your group, visit