Just Stop.

For years now I have written about how dangerous working on or around trains is. The facts are just there: big, heavy, moving objects can be hazardous to your health if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. That being said, railroad workers are on a constant vigil to make sure that they are as safe as they can be. This works within their own circle, because they can influence their own environment. Where things can get out of control is where the railroad has to deal with the rest of the world. Everyone feels that they are an expert on everything, and dealing with railroads is no different.The first area that I have seen this came a week ago when I was sitting at my kitchen table reading the newspaper (yes, a real, paper newspaper) and there was an article with the headline proclaiming how experts were expressing concerns about dangerous trains going over bridges in New Jersey. Needless to say the headline got my attention, and I read the article. Things went downhill when I saw that the “experts” that the headline referred to were the heads of the Sierra Club and the Coalition Against Dangerous Trains in NJ, and their concern was over a bridge in New Jersey that they felt was dangerous because the railroad involved had received a grant to repair and upgrade the bridge, and their concern was that “when the railroad carried oil trains over the bridge an accident similar to the one in Canada could occur.”For the average newspaper reader, this could have caused some alarm. For me, it was a little bit of anger. There was no factual basis for anything in the article, and no comment from the railroad. What would have added a little bit of reality to the piece would have someone using a process that has been in pace with the FRA for over a year now. Public entities can put a request in with the FRA to find out if a bridge complies. The FRA sends a request to the railroad, and the railroad provides the applicable data to the FRA. The FRA then responds to the requestor with the answer. I hope that some of these “experts” use the tools that are out there to have some real facts instead of their opinions.The other thing that caught my attention was something that I recently saw both on Facebook and on the news, and this is something that we all must pay attention to. The FRA started a new campaign called “Stop. Trains Can’t.” aimed at grade crossing safety. The facts are that a car running or stopped on a grade crossing is a target that an oncoming train can’t miss, and that trains can’t stop on a dime. This is the first campaign that I have seen that graphically shows what happens to a vehicle when it is trapped on the front of a moving train (find the video, it isn’t pretty). While it doesn’t use the driving school “death on the tracks” type of scare tactics, it does get the message across. Kudos to outgoing FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg for getting this out before her departure.The facts are that operating a train is hard enough and dangerous enough without those who think they know better. Don’t be afraid to ask if you have a question or concern, but until you have the experience, don’t think that you know better than those who really do. --By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpg Steve Friedland is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.