Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Manville council looks to promote railroad safety

Following article appeared in the Courier-News on Friday, 5/30/08.

Manville council looks to promote railroad safety


The Borough Council wants to launch an education program to raise more awareness about railroad safety.

Although the move comes weeks after the most recent death of 19-year-old Kevin Seit, who was found on the tracks near Huff Avenue on May 8, borough officials said a program for students in elementary through high school already was being considered.

National statistics show that Manville is one of the leading municipalities in the nation in per-capita deaths on rail lines.

In Manville's 80-year history as a town crossed by two busy freight railroad lines, police have estimated that about 20 people have died in train accidents or near the tracks.

In March, a man's body also was found along the south bank of the river, east of the CSX railroad bridge and near Huff Avenue. The body was wedged between a fallen tree and some brush along the bank.

Councilman Ken Otrimski, a retired Franklin Township (Somerset) police officer, said he had researched about Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization sponsored by federal, state and local government agencies to educate students about railroad safety.

"I thought at least we'll bring it to their (students) attention and it's up to the parents to continue on what we're trying to teach," he said. "The railroads are controlled by the government and not many police officers can patrol all the tracks in the state of New Jersey all the time. What we're trying to do is have the seminars so the kids can learn the dangers."

Manville Fire Chief Tom Collins recently attended a presentation provided by CSX officials for borough's firefighters and had discussed Operation Lifesaver.

During the presentation, Collins said he learned trains are now being "welded" when they are put together, so there is a lack of a "crackling noise," making the trains quieter.

"You just have to be aware, the best thing to do is stay off the tracks and just look. They say, "anytime is train time' and it's true," he said.

Otrimski, whose home is near the CSX railroad tracks, said he has seen school-age children walking across the tracks because it's the quickest way to get from 8th Avenue to 13th Avenue.

"These kids, they walk for blocks on the tracks," Otrimski said.

CSX Spokesman Robert Sullivan said during an Operation Lifesaver presentation, CSX guest speakers will address the students in a school-wide assembly, discussing ways to avoid collisions, deaths and injuries where roadways cross train tracks. He said "appropriate age" visual aids such as videotapes also will be featured.

"We'll try to help them (students) understand the way the railroad works and rules on the railroad tracks," Sullivan said. "We'll try to get people to understand they need to stay away from the railroad tracks — and always expect a train. Never try to beat a train, people try to do that and are unsuccessful — the result can often be death or very serious injuries."

Sullivan said a train traveling at 55-mph, takes an average of a mile and a half to stop.

"People don't understand that. They also don't understand trains can come up on you very quickly. The tracks are not a place for hiking or fishing, anything of that sort," he said. "You wouldn't do it on an interstate highway, why would you do it on a railroad?"

Otrimski said the earliest the program could be launched in district schools would be September when classes resume. There is only three weeks left in the school year, he said.

Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be reached at (908) 707-3155 or psroka@gannett.com.