By KATE LUDLOW
Capital Metro unveiled an advertising campaign this fall aimed at rail safety in Liberty Hill and surrounding communities. While the number of collisions between trains and automobiles has not increased, Erica Macioge, spokesperson for Capital Metro says that the number of “near-misses” is on the rise.
The June death of a 59-year-old Bertram woman prompted Capital Metro to take a proactive stance on rail safety.
“From what I understand, she had her radio up too loudly, and wasn’t able to hear the train coming,” said Ms. Macioge.
Liberty Hill was chosen as a location for newspaper and billboard advertising, not only because of the presence of the railroad at State Highway 29 and other major roads, but because of the large number of private crossings — many right across homeowners’ driveways. Currently, there are five public crossings in Liberty Hill and eight private crossings.
The ads placed in The Independent and on area billboards implore readers to “Consider the Impact,” with messages like “A moving train exerts 550,000 pounds of force. It takes 4 pounds to turn a tomato into ketchup.”
“A lot of these private crossings don’t have warning gates and bells. People are more likely to jump out in front of a train because 99 times out of 100, you don’t see a train there. They are dangerous situations,” says Macioge.
“We (Capital Metro) own the Austin Western Railroad (AWRR) on Highway 29 from Giddings to downtown Austin and out east to Manor and Elgin. We contract with Herzog, who operates our commuter line, the Metro Rail, from downtown Austin to Leander. For freight, we contract with Watco,” says Macioge.
These days, the freight is mainly gravel, with a large majority coming from a Liberty Hill quarry, Capital Aggregates.
The ads were co-funded with Herzong and Watco, with artistic and statistical input from Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit public safety education program
According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, 10 percent of all grade crossing collisions in the United States occurred in Texas in 2011—more than any other state. Along the Austin Western Railroad since March 2011, there have been eight collisions at rail crossings, and another five near misses.
Recently, four Iraq and Afghanistan veterans lost their lives, and 16 more people were injured, when a tractor-trailer float they were riding in a parade crashed into a train in Midland. Early reports say that warning signals were ignored, and that the float traveled onto the railroad tracks after the warning signals had sounded.
RAIL SAFETY BASICS
When in a vehicle…
* Never stop your vehicle on railroad tracks. It is illegal to stop a vehicle on railroad tracks.
* Always obey all traffic signs and signals at grade crossings. The train has the right of way – look both ways before crossing.
* Never drive around lowered gates. It’s illegal and deadly. If the gate is down, the road is closed.
* Always stop, look, and listen for trains before crossing the tracks and be sure to look both ways.
* Never walk down a train track. It’s illegal and dangerous. It can take a mile or more to stop a freight train, so by the time an engineer can see a trespasser or a vehicle on the tracks, it is too late.
* Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and obey all warning signs and signals. Crossing at any other location is trespassing.