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Rail News Home Safety

January 2014

Rail News: Safety

Operation Lifesaver Inc. is turning up the volume on its anti-trespassing message


By Julie Sneider, Associate Editor

For Joyce Rose, the most frustrating part of her work is knowing the number of people being killed by trains is increasing.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), railroad trespasser deaths climbed 18.7 percent during the first 10 months of 2013 compared with the same 2012 period. Although the FRA's Office of Safety Analysis isn’t expected to report 2013’s total number until March, the trend for 2013 doesn't look good. There were 426 trespasser fatalities from January through October 2013, compared with 428 for all of 2012.

As president and chief executive officer of Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI), Rose leads the national office of the nonprofit organization whose mission is to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway rail crossings and on rail property. Rose can't say for certain why fatalities are on the rise. Part of the reason could be that there are more trains on the move, with freight railroads serving a recovering economy and passenger trains transporting riders in record numbers.

What Rose does know for certain is that she and Operation Lifesaver have their work cut out for them. To that end, Operation Lifesaver officials hope to turn up the volume on the rail-safety message this year through "a very big," national public- safety advertising campaign that will use television, radio, billboard, print and social media to get the word out on rail safety.

OLI has partnered with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) to present the campaign, which Rose anticipates will kick off in early spring. The organizations began collaborating on it last summer because of the "stubbornness of the trespassing problem," she says.

The campaign's "See tracks? Think train!" catch phrase will alert people to stay off rail property. Although the message will target the general population, the campaign will have its own dedicated website and be "very social-media oriented" in an effort to appeal to younger people, she says.

The national campaign also will be a departure for Operation Lifesaver, which historically has relied on grassroots communications via volunteers giving face-to-face presentations to community groups, schools and emergency response personnel. Those grassroots efforts continue, but will be reinforced by the national campaign.

The effort is OLI's latest attempt to increase the ways in which it spreads the rail-safety word. Since Rose took over as its top executive in December 2013, OLI also has made progress in stabilizing its funding, and recruiting and educating a new crop of volunteers.

"We are encouraged by how many new people who weren't associated with the program have gone online to become an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer," Rose says. "We’re getting younger people to volunteer and expand our ranks."

Moreover, OLI has stepped up its use of social media, with profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

"Our Facebook 'Likes' are over 6,000 — and we were over 3,000 in 2012, so we've doubled. And Twitter, which we started new in 2012, went from a few hundred to over 2,000 followers," she says, adding that many state Operation Lifesaver chapters have increased their use of social media, as well.

Another way OLI educates the public on rail safety is by discouraging photographers, advertisers, television programs and other forms of media from using images that show trespassers walking or standing on railroad property.

"I write a lot of letters," Rose says.

One of her latest targets is Kiloo Games, the Denmark-based maker of "Subway Surfers," a video game app in which cartoon characters surf on railroad tracks and try to dodge oncoming trains. Rose has written to Kiloo officials, asking if they would consider modifying or taking down the app. The company has not responded to her request, she says.

Not all of Rose's letters go unanswered, however. OLI recently entered into an agreement with the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) to inform photographers about the danger associated with taking photos on railroad property without the railroads’ permission.

"We have a real problem with photographers on rail rights of way," she says. "People love to take a selfie on a railroad track. Or, we’ll see a professional photographer take photos of families, high school classes — even a baby in a basket — on the track."

OLI’s other accomplishments in 2013 included an increased role in the transit-safety arena. Rose served on a committee to advise the Federal Transit Administration on proposed new transit-safety rules. Also, OLI awarded eight transit-safety education grants to transit agencies, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to work together on rail-safety issues.

Rose hopes all those efforts plus the national ad campaign will result in fewer trespasser fatalities in 2014.

"We have an important story to tell," she says. "We want more people to focus on our message."


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