Crossing safety emphasized in advance of train traffic increase

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Steve Baldwin, a Cape Girardeau native and engineer for Union Pacific railroad said safety is his passion. "It all boils down to safety, and if we can save one life, then I think we've done our job," he said.

That is why Baldwin uses his free time to educate people about railway safety and the importance of what he calls the three Ls, "Look, Listen and Live."

"If you can see the headlights of an oncoming train it's not safe to cross. We hear a lot of stories of people who think they can make it across in time, and that's where they get into trouble," said Baldwin.

One of those unfortunate stories was caught on camera, and UP's campaign, "Operation Lifesaver," has put a billboard in front of the crossing at Yoakum Street in Chaffee to give drivers a dramatic representation of the importance of train safety. The billboard shows a photo of a car being crushed by a locomotive traveling 70 mph at a crossing in Paragould, Ark.

Increasing importance

Train safety will be of the utmost importance in the upcoming months when the Union Pacific coal trains as well as local liners begin using the route to transport coal to the Associated Electric power plant in New Madrid. At the beginning of the change this will mean an average of one northbound and one southbound UP train per day, but Baldwin said that number will increase quickly as another route is closed.

The soon-to-be defunct line runs north from Malden and Lilbourn to Oran and will be replaced by the line running through Chaffee between Dexter and Scott City.

Baldwin said it is important for Chaffee residents to be prepared for the change, because UP trains will not be stopping at the Yoakum Street crossing. This may be an adjustment for residents accustomed to the Burlington Northern Line trains that always stops just before the crossing for maintenance.

The UP trains will travel at approximately 20 mph in the zone, and the lights and gates will activate to notify drivers of an oncoming train.

That, said Baldwin, is no guarantee of avoiding an accident. "Fifty percent of all collisions occur at crossings with lights and gates," he said. "And to give you an idea, there is a collision between a train and a vehicle every two hours in the United States."

Baldwin, who speaks to groups of all ages about train safety, compared a train hitting a car, to the impact a car has when it rolls over an empty soda can.

The coal trains which range in length from 6,500 to 7,000 feet should block traffic for between three and four minutes at the crossing.

Groups interested in Baldwin's course on train safety can contact him at (573) 270-9028

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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