by Sheryl Cummings, Minnesota Operation Lifesaver state coordinator, and Jeanine Black, Minnesota Operation Lifesaver authorized volunteer

Many people in this region are back to work, back to school, traveling again, and enjoying the myriad activities available in Winona and area communities. Whether you are out and about on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bicycle, skateboard, scooter, motorcycle or ATV, or driving a motor vehicle, Minnesota Operation Lifesaver (MNOL) wants you to make safe choices around tracks and trains. Please review safe behavior near tracks and trains and then share that information with others — children, students, family, friends, neighbors.

• About every three hours in the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train.

• Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data indicates that 94 percent of all rail-related fatalities and injuries occur at railroad crossings or due to trespassing.

• Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Railroad tracks and yards are private property, so if you are on or adjacent to tracks and not at a designated crossing, you are trespassing.

Most of these deaths — and injuries — are preventable, which is why Operation Lifesaver Inc., the national rail safety education nonprofit, works in partnership with state programs such as MNOL, the U.S. Department of Transportation, railroads, police and first responders, and many other organizations to prevent track tragedies by using the three “E’s” — education, enforcement, and engineering.

MNOL and its local partners, including our major local corporate sponsor Miller Ingenuity, will be sharing our safety message in Winona. Look for us next Wednesday morning as we apply bright yellow safety messages on sidewalks near a number of grade crossings to remind you that when you “See Tracks,” you should “Think Train!” From 1-3 p.m., we will be near the Lake Park playground behind the bandshell with giveaway items for adults and children: temporary tattoos, wristbands, zipper pulls, flying discs, keychains and more.

We invite you to share this information and stop by Lake Park next Wednesday afternoon. Thank you for joining us in raising awareness for rail safety education in Minnesota.

Remember:

• Trains can run on any track, at any time, from either direction.

• Never try to beat a train to the crossing. No event is worth risking your life.

• It can take a train over a mile to stop — the length of 18 football fields!

• Because of their size, trains appear to be farther away and traveling more slowly than their actual speed.

• Don’t assume train tracks are abandoned. Always expect a train!

• Pedestrians who choose to walk or play around railroad tracks are trespassing on private property and could be fined, seriously injured or killed.

• Never take a short cut across railroad tracks; always use designated crossings.

• Never place objects on rails or throw objects at trains. These actions are illegal and potentially deadly.

• If red lights are flashing and the gates are down, you must stop.

• Once a train passes do not cross the tracks until the gates are up and the lights have stopped flashing. There might be a second train!