Morning rush hour travelers at the Coon Rapids Northstar Commuter Rail station May 7 were greeted by volunteers taking part in a blitz to improve rail safety.
MN Operation Lifesaver, working with the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad and Metro Transit, had volunteers at all the Northstar stations that morning handing out materials and goodies to passengers in an effort to increase awareness and safe behavior around railroad tracks.
As stated on the plastic bag which contained the safety materials, the theme of the event was “Look, Listen and Live.”
The materials included two pamphlets – “Rail Safety and You,” safety tips for Northstar line service distributed by Metro Transit, which operates Northstar Commuter Rail, and an Operation Livesaver publication titled “Key Safety Tips Around Commuter, Subway & Light Rail Trains.”
Allison Terrell, Ramsey, and Tony Raimondi, Woodbury, were the two MN Operation Lifesaver volunteers stationed on the bridge over the tracks on which commuters cross from the parking lot to the Minneapolis-bound platform at the Coon Rapids Riverdale station.
According to Terrell, the safety blitz was not just about safety at railroad crossings, but safety on railroad property in general.
Indeed, Raimondi said it is illegal to be on railroad property other than at railroad crossings or at stations.
“It is trespassing,” he said.
But Raimondi said he saw examples of that on the previous weekend when he took a “dry run,” driving from his home in Woodbury to the Riverdale station so that he would know where it was.
According to Raimondi, at double-line tracks like those on which Northstar operates, pedestrians/bicyclists at railroad crossings should not assume that once a train passes in one direction, another is not coming in the other direction.
“Our purpose is to educate commuters and other people that safety is important around rail crossings and not something that should be taken for granted,” Terrell said.
At railroad crossings, always expect a train, she said.
The safety project took place on International Level Crossing Awareness Day, an international public education campaign to improve safety near railroads.
There are numerous at-grade railroad crossings on the Northstar route from Big Lake to Minneapolis, including one just east of the Riverdale station in Coon Rapids – at 119th Avenue and Northdale Boulevard and another a little farther east on Crooked Lake Boulevard.
The project was funded, in part, with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and was the first of its kind in the Twin Cities to focus on safety around commuter trains.
“The number of incidents between the public and trains has been dramatically reduced through public safety education, but much more can be done,” said Jesse Wilkerson, board member of MN Operation Lifesaver.
“Northstar commuters are familiar with trains, but they cannot take safety for granted.”
According to Wilkerson, statewide Minnesota saw a decrease in highway-rail grade crossing incidents from 2011 to 2012, but the rate of trespasser incidents increased by over 50 percent.
MN Operation Lifesaver is a private, non-profit educational organization that partners with railroads and others in the state.
It is dedicated to ending collisions at highway-rail crossings and on railroad property, Wilkerson said.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]