Students learn about railway safety

Students at J.W. Walker School here got an important lesson in safety last Thursday thanks to a partnership among local emergency services and Safe Kids Canada.
Fort Frances was chosen as one of only 10 communities across Canada to deliver the “Safe Crossing” program to teach children how to cross railway tracks safely.
The program also tries to reach children’s parents so the message is reinforced at home.
“It encourages parents and caregivers to teach children to be safe around the railway,” said Cst. Pete LeDrew of the CN Police. “It’s kind of a new angle that we’re taking.”
According to a recent survey by Safe Kids Canada, only 30 percent of Canadian parents talk to their children about railway safety.
“Just as you teach your children to cross streets at traffic lights or crosswalks, it is important to teach your children to cross tracks only at railway crossings,” advised Allyson Hewitt, executive director of Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“Education is a vital prevention strategy,” she stressed.
Cst. LeDrew said Fort Frances likely was chosen among the 10 communities in part because of its strong reputation for safety.
“It started out with the area being put on the map as one of the safest communities in Canada,” he noted.
The town also was one of only three to implement pilot projects regarding railway safety.
Of the other nine cities chosen to implement “Safe Crossing,” most are larger centres, including Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Sudbury, and Kamloops, B.C.
While Fort Frances is among the smallest communities on the list, “for community involvement, we’re one of the biggest,” Cst. LeDrew remarked.
Representatives from the Fort Frances OPP, as well as Fire Chief Steve Richardson and CN Police Cst. Catherine Kowal-Golding of Thunder Bay, also attended Thursday’s event.
The program started with about 145 students from kindergarten to Grade 4 assembling in the school gym that morning.
Cst. LeDrew spoke to the kids about how to identify a railway crossing, either by the lights, or the lights and a gate, or by a simple sign.
He reminded them there only are two places in town to safely cross the railway tracks: at the McIrvine Road crossing and via the underpass at Portage Avenue.
“Nowhere else,” he stressed.
“Crossing the railroad tracks is just like crossing the street. You have to look both ways,” he said.
He also warned students to look carefully down the tracks even if a train has just gone by because there could be another one coming from the opposite direction.
The presentation included visual aids, and telling children that a rail car weighs about two tons but a locomotive weighs about 110 tons—and can take up to two km to come to a full stop.
Following the short presentation, the children walked with teachers and parent volunteers to the McIrvine Road crossing, where Cst. LeDrew activated the lights and crossing gate to demonstrate them.
The group then made their way across the tracks and approached a nearby train, which was there for them to see just how big it is close up.
Cst. LeDrew noted there are wooden planks between the railway tracks at crossings to make crossing over easier, but everywhere else there are large stones between the tracks.
“The rocks between the rails are difficult to walk on. And there’s a good reason for that. We don’t want you walking on them,” he told the youngsters.
Cst. LeDrew told the students they always should stand “five giant steps back” from the edge of the gravel near the tracks in order to be safe.
To conclude the visit, the engineer blew the train’s loud horn, as the children laughed and covered their ears.
Upon returning to school, the students were given toolkits, including brochures and a tip sheet for parents.
“The main thing is the information will go home with the kids and get to the parents,” Cst. LeDrew said.
Hopefully, these education programs for children will help them to grow up respecting the laws around railway tracks, he added.
“Trespassing issues will never go away, but they’ve definitely declined,” he remarked.