Published Date Written by David CarkhuffAt 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, Maine Operation Lifesaver Inc. will give a presentation to children at Reiche School about train safety.
It's all part of outreach to remind the public that expanded Amtrak Downeaster service north of Portland carries risks.
"Personally, I'm a big railroad advocate, so I think it's great, but from my standpoint as state coordinator of Maine Operation Lifesaver Inc., I'm just hopeful that our message has gotten out there and continues to get out there," said Fred Hirsch, based with Maine Operation Lifesaver (www.maineol.org) in Bangor.
In Maine, statistics gathered by Maine Operation Lifesaver show there were four train-vehicle collisions in 2011 including one fatality, but no non-fatal injuries. There were no deaths or other injuries caused by trespassers on railroad tracks in Maine last year.
"We like to think it's a big issue. Last year nationwide almost 300 people were killed at railroad crossings and 400 people were killed trespassing on railroad tracks," Hirsch said.
For the last year, Maine Operation Lifesaver Inc. has presented the dangers of railroad crossings and trespassing on private railroad property.
"People like to take the railroad tracks as shortcuts, sometimes it's a secluded area where kids can gather. ... Hunting along the tracks, snowmobiling, ATV riding, cross country skiing, people do that. Fishing from railroad bridges," said Hirsch.
"We've already had one person hit by a train in Biddeford earlier this year. It was a very typical situation, a person was wearing ear buds and got hit by the train," he said.
An all-volunteer group, Maine Operation Lifesaver makes itself available to talk about train safety, free of charge.
The risks of the expanded service north of Portland, which began Nov. 1, should be communicated, Hirsch noted.
"There are going to be at least six more trains going through Portland every day in addition to the number of freight trains that they already run," he said.
Train horns aren't blown in many areas, something Portland city officials emphasized in a lengthy press release about rail corridor safety. The city is making improvements to railroad crossings to make sure that people can only cross train tracks safely, via lane barriers, and that there is adequate warning of an approaching train at one of city's 19 active crossings, the city reported.
Hirsch acknowledged Maine isn't as hard hit with train accidents as states such as Texas and California, but he warned that close calls can become disasters in a matter of seconds.
"Maine has been relatively safe from crossing situations and trespass injuries and fatalities. But you ask any engineer or any conductor on any train, they will tell you nearly every day he or she is faced with a trespasser and/or motorist trying to beat the train or being on the tracks when they shouldn't be," he said.