This week is national Rail Safety Week, and the city of Warsaw is supporting the campaign and encouraging residents to reflect on their own habits and make changes to protect their lives and the safety of train engineers.

Accidents that involve trains are catastrophic to the community when it comes to property damage, injury and delays in emergency response elsewhere, according to a news release from the city. Warsaw Police Department and Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, along with other first responders in the community, are negatively impacted by these accidents.

The impact of a train to a motor vehicle is equivalent to a car or truck driving over an empty soda can, the release states. This impact can have devastating results.

While trains move slower through Warsaw, train accidents and fatalities still occur frequently.

“These scenes are horrific for first responders and witnesses. They create memories that will live with those individuals the rest of their lives,” said WPD Det. Sgt. Brad Kellar, who has responded to many of these accident scenes throughout his career.

Train engineers also live with the tragedy and memories of these incidents that they had little or no control over.  Some engineers are so deeply impacted by these events that they can no longer return to the tracks to continue their job and are forced to change careers, the release states. They may also be faced with post-traumatic stress disorder following their experiences.

Jessica Feder, executive director of Indiana Operation Lifesaver, the organization leading the national Rail Safety Week campaign, said, “By the time the train engineer sees you on the tracks, it's too late.  Engineers and conductors are often the forgotten victims in these collisions as they cannot stop in time to avoid a collision.”

Another byproduct of accidents involving trains is the gridlock they create for motorists trying to move throughout and around the city. During a prolonged event involving a long train, railroad crossings throughout the entire city can be blocked for hours, sometimes leaving motorists with only one east-west option for traversing the tracks. Motorists become stressed and frustrated, which can often lead to additional accidents.  

This gridlock also puts into jeopardy those who need unrelated emergency services throughout the city, as emergency personnel must also traverse all of the blocked roadways and backed-up traffic to respond.

According to Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Chief Michael Wilson, “Emergency responders plan to accommodate the time delay of a train passing through town but not the extreme delays that a train-involved accident may cause.”

When a train accident occurs, the train comes to a stop as soon as possible. For a train traveling at higher speeds with a heavier load, it can take up to one mile to stop by activating the emergency brake.  Emergency responders arrive to manage the accident scene. Once patients have been treated, crews must wait for railroad personnel to physically walk and inspect the entire length of the train and tracks before being cleared of any damage so that it can move. The train will not move until the investigation is complete and clear, regardless of how minor or major the accident is.

Sometimes, due to proximity, there are delays in getting a train inspector on-site. The inspection itself can take as long as two hours to complete. When there is a fatality, the investigation is even more time consuming, the release states.

Kellar reminds motorists that “a vehicle disregarding a crossing arm or flashing lights at a railroad crossing not only puts his or her life in jeopardy, but also the lives of others in the vehicle, other motorists, first responders, pedestrians, and bicyclists.”

Wilson urges residents to “stop, look, and listen for on-coming trains at both signaled and un-signaled train crossings. It’s your life at risk and the lives of others.”

First responders urge residents to not put their lives on the line to get somewhere more quickly. Never try to beat a train, no matter how much of a hurry you are in.  The consequences of your actions that seem worth it in the moment may change someone’s life forever. Always be aware of the railroad tracks and help to keep both community members and railroad crews safe.