After a in Hatboro within a month, SEPTA officials said Tuesday that they hope to better educate the community on the dangers of trespassing on SEPTA-owned railroad tracks.
“People don’t go swimming in the ocean when there’s sharks,” said Jim Fox, SEPTA’s director of system safety and risk management. The same idea, he said, should be applied to the train tracks, not only at the , but all SEPTA tracks in the five-county region.
“These trains sometimes take up to a quarter mile to stop,” he said, adding that freight trains can take even longer, up to a mile to stop. “That’s obviously way too late to avoid contact.”
As part of a nationwide initiative called Operation Lifesaver, SEPTA’s team of eight staff members are trying to better educate the public on the need to steer clear of train tracks, and police on the importance of helping to enforce it. Fox said SEPTA officials meet with and give 40-minute presentations to schools, community groups, first responders and any other organization requesting the free public service initiative.
So far this year, Fox said 44 presentations have been made throughout the SEPTA region and more than 1,300 attendees have been addressed. Fox and staff also do “safety blitzes” during rush hour at different train stations, passing out fliers outlining the “dangers of trespassing.”
“Part of the frustration is we try to go out and promote these, but we’re at the mercy of the schools really to invite us in,” Fox said.
Superintendent Curtis Griffin said Tuesday that, “to my knowledge we’ve never had that discussion,” noting that safety around train tracks may have come up within one of the school's curriculum.
In the wake of , in which 34-year-old Bensalem resident Steven Joseph Bond escaped death and is hospitalized in critical condition, Fox said he hopes to coordinate with law enforcement in Hatboro, Horsham and Warminster in conducting a special presentation geared for first responders.
Hatboro Police Chief James Gardner said he’s open to that. Gardner said educating the public to the dangers of trespassing on the tracks is the best approach.
“You’re really taking a big risk if you choose to walk on those tracks and trespass,” Gardner said. “There’s an amount of personal responsibility here.”
In his 20 plus years with Hatboro, Gardner said he recalls a “handful” of incidents involving pedestrians struck by a train. Most of them were suicide by train. “Three come to mind,” Gardner said.
Those do not include the two separate suicides there last month involving and . Gardner said police have not yet determined if Bond’s incident was a suicide attempt, or an accident.
The majority of train-related deaths or injuries involve males in the 30-40 age range, Fox said. He said those incidents amount to both suicides and accidents. According to the Federal Railroad Administration statistics, Pennsylvania ranked eleventh with 56 "highway-rail grade crossing collisions" in 2010. Nationwide, according to those stats, 2,004 incidents occurred last year.
“It’s not really an issue of SEPTA. This is an issue nationwide,” Fox said. “We are all struggling with the same issues. For whatever reason, society continues to put their life on the limb … and trespass.”
Besides educating the public, Fox said SEPTA looks for support from local police departments to enforce no trespassing on their property.
Gardner said his department does what it can.
“When we see people walking on the tracks we typically advise them to leave,” Gardner said. “In order to cite somebody for trespassing, you’ve got to have fencing or signage. We intend on asking SEPTA to put up more signage.”
Installing fencing on SEPTA’s thousands of miles of track in the five-county area would be cost prohibitive, Fox said. Putting up fencing alone would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
“We’d have to maintain it. People are constantly cutting fences to get through,” Fox said. “It’s up to us to constantly go out and repair and maintain.”
Fox said other safety precautions are taken. At stations where riders have to cross tracks, Fox said SEPTA has installed crossing protection devices, signage and audio and visual equipment to let riders know when it is safe to cross and when another train is coming. In Hatboro it’s not an issue because commuters get off and board on the same side.
The easiest fix, of course, is to refrain from walking on train tracks.
“It’s private property. It’s illegal,” Fox said. “Stay off, stay away and stay alive.”
If interested in receiving an Operation Lifesaver presentation, click here, or call 215-580-3754.