Safety urged in wake of train fatality
Thomasville and trains have a history dating back to 1861.
Trains played a key role in making the Chair City a hub of activity during the Civil War and lead to Thomasville being known as the "Winter Resort of the South." This more than 100-year-old symbiotic relationship continues today, as trains pass through the heart of Thomasville daily, reaching speeds approaching 80 mph.
While the custom seems mundane to most citizens who find themselves waiting patiently at railroad crossings, the need to practice safety remains as important as ever. In the past year, two Chair City men have died on local railroad tracks, and the number of train-related fatalities across the country is on the rise.
"It happens very frequently, actually," said Vivian Speight-Bridges, executive director of Operation Lifesaver in North Carolina, a nonprofit that educates the public on railroad and train safety. "This year, we've had a large number, larger than normal, amount of people getting hit. [Railroad tracks] are dangerous."
According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2012 North Carolina reported 45 railroad crossing crashes and 28 injury-related incidents involving pedestrians and trains, including 16 fatalities. Paul Anthony Taylor, a 18-year junior at Thomasville High School, died on March 26 after being hit by a train on Main Street, and 65-year-old Larry Barnes was killed on the railroad tracks near East Triad Boulevard last July. Both men were walking along the tracks and did not hear the oncoming train, a common occurrence for such fatalities. Taylor is believed to have been listening to an MP3 player when he was struck.
"It's unbelievable so many get hurt," Speight-Bridges said. "It's human error that creates these problems. They're in the wrong place and it's making it easier for them to get hurt. North Carolina currently ranks eighth in the nation in the number of railroad fatalities and that's not good."
Thomasville, like many North Carolina cities, is alive with train activity. Speight-Bridges said that the number of trains on railroad tracks is on the rise due to the economy. Trains of today are heavier and travel faster than ever before, making it even more important that people obey critical safety rules when crossing railroad tracks.
One key rule is that pedestrians are not allowed on railroad tracks and can be cited for trespassing if caught. Motorists are advised to never try to beat a train through a crossing.
"The biggest thing is a lot of the public doesn't realize that it's against the law to walk along a railroad right-of-way," Sgt. Brad Saintsing with Thomasville Police Department said. "They're only supposed to cross at designated areas. Not being educated and not adhering to these laws and these safety guidelines could be a life or death type of decision for them."
Saintsing said officers will be more vigilant when it comes to trespassing on railroad tracks in an effort to raise awareness and educate the public.
“We want people to understand the dangers of being on the railroad,” said Saintsing. “This is a state law not many citizens know about and they need to be more aware.”
TPD and Operation Lifesaver have a number of safety tips motorists and pedestrians can follow to avoid adding to an already alarming statistic of train-related fatalities. Speight-Bridges said a simple rule to abide by is "look, listen and live."
Trains travel through Thomasville more than three dozen times a day during the week and 24 times daily on the weekend, according to Saintsing.
For more information about train safety, visit oli.org.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or email@example.com.