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The Journal Gazette

Public slow to heed rail safety

– It can take a freight train the length of 18 football fields to come to a complete stop.

Railway officials say that’s nothing compared with how long it takes to educate the public about the dangers of trespassing on train tracks.

The death of a 13-year-old Fort Wayne youngster has industry leaders stressing public awareness and caution in the hope that such tragedies won’t occur. Hu Sein fell asleep on railroad tracks in a rural area northeast of Findlay, Ohio, and was fatally struck by a Norfolk Southern Corp. train Sunday afternoon, according to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said Hu Sein’s death is both sad and frustrating.

“We devote a lot of time in educating communities,” she said. “We go into communities and take train rides with residents and police to stress the dangers involved.”

Even so, Indiana ranks fourth in the nation in both train collisions and fatalities, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc., an Alexandria, Va.-based organization devoted to promoting safety.

Hu Sein and two of his friends hopped a freight train in Fort Wayne, the sheriff’s department said. The three rode the train into Ohio. When the vehicle stopped, the trio got off and started to walk. They followed the tracks to a location northeast of Findlay. Hu Sein became tired and fell asleep on the tracks, officials said.

Terpay said that in areas where trespassing becomes a major problem, Norfolk Southern has conducted railway sweeps in which a trucklike vehicle rides the rails to warn pedestrians.

“We’re not out to arrest them, just to let them know that it’s dangerous,” she said. “People shouldn’t be walking across or alongside the tracks.”

Norfolk Southern operates about 20,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The company recorded $11 billion in revenue last year. Speeds of trains will vary depending on location and track conditions, Terpay said. Trains can reach up to 60 mph. Terpay could not say Tuesday how often the company’s trains travel through Fort Wayne.

Jessica Allen Feder is executive director of Indiana Operation Lifesaver. She said rail safety sometimes takes a back seat to other school issues, such as bullying, violence and drugs.

“They do get more attention,” Feder said. “For a lot of people, though, hopping a train is a cultural thing. It’s just the way they get around, just follow the railroad tracks. Sometimes it’s people taking a shortcut. Indiana is such a big state, and we need law enforcement to help us.”

The Hoosier State has at least 5,700 miles of track and about as many crossing sites, Feder said. People living in poverty are more apt to fall prey to what they view as a free ride, she said. Surveillance cameras or weight sensors aren’t in place, and Feder doubts they would do much good.

One reason is that people just don’t view piggy-backing a train as a crime.

“They are trespassing, but it’s hard to break the mindset,” Feder said. “I even have friends who are police officers and I’ve seen them with family pictures on their Facebook page of relatives on train tracks. Everybody needs to know the law.”

pwyche@jg.net

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