TOMAHAWK - Railroads across Wisconsin have started fining people who walk along railroad tracks. The policy changed in an effort to save lives after one of the most deadly years in the state's travel history.
Eight people died in train-involved deaths in 2014, six more than in 2013. And 2015 already saw its first train-related death when a Milwaukee man was hit and killed on January 2.
Railroad experts say many accidents happen because trains can't stop fast enough.
"[It] takes a loaded freight-train, which we're all running up here in the north now, more than a mile to stop. That's 18 football fields," said Susie Klinger of the Tomahawk Railway. "It's a long distance and lots of things can happen to you in that distance."
State Train Commissioner Jeff Plale thinks there have been more accidents because there's a lot more rail activity throughout the state than there has been in past years.
"Wisconsin is kind of an epicenter for rail activity," Plale said. "We're close to Chicago, which is still the rail hub of the country. We have a lot of sand that's going out of the state. We have oil that's flowing through the state."
Many closed rail lines have re-opened in the past few months, which means people need to be more alert around those tracks than they may have been in the past.
"Just because you haven't seen a train there in a long time, don't assume that a train couldn't come, because it certainly could," Plale said.
Train experts suggest more people are getting hit by trains because they're not being careful. Many people think they will hear a train coming toward them, but that may not be the case.
"Technology has come so far with trains," Klinger said. "Right now you don't hear that clickety-clack of the old days of the jointed rail. They're actually running on welded rail, which we call ribbon rail. It's seamless and there is no noise," she said. "You literally don't hear the train coming until it's right on you."
The best way to stay safe is to avoid walking on or along the train tracks.
Even though the tracks may be far away, trains jut out over either side of the tracks by about three feet. Standing near tracks means standing in a danger zone.
It's also trespassing to walk near a train track. The railroad owns the 50 feet of land on both sides of the track. So, if you're within that distance, you're not only putting yourself and others in danger, you could also get a fine.
"Fines are getting to be huge," says Klinger. "Frankly, all the railroads in the state of Wisconsin are beefing up their trespassing programs with their own police force. The fines range from $200 to $300."
Railroad companies hope the fines will stop people from coming near train tracks, and groups like Operation Lifesaver are also teaching more people about train safety.
But Plale and Klinger think common sense is your best guide.
"You don't try to beat a train," Plale said. "You don't take senior pictures on tracks, which has become a trend lately. Also, just use your head. You're not going to outrun a train. If you pick a fight with a train, you're not going to win."
Klinger puts the same advice another way: "Number one is 'See tracks, think trains."
It's a simple motto that can save many lives.
Operation Lifesaver Website
|Story By: Karolina Buczek