WINNSBORO — It passed through Winnsboro as any other train does, with a low rumble, the clang of bells and several long, loud bellows of its horn.
However, the train that passed through Winnsboro last Wednesday morning was a rarity. Not only was it a passenger train, which is seldom seen, but it was Norfolk Southern’s Whistle-Stop Safety Train.
“This particular Whistle Stop Safety Tour happens not so often in our state,” said Janice Cowen, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver.
Operation Lifesaver, a national rail safety education organization, partnered with Norfolk Southern to educate county and municipal elected leaders about rail safety, while transporting them between Columbia and Rock Hill via two restored Pullman passenger trail cars.
A research car and an exhibit car were also part of the rolling informational session.
“Pedestrians and drivers often do not realize how dangerous it is to walk on or near railroad tracks, or that it can take a mile or more for a train to come to a complete stop,” said Cayela Wimberly, Norfolk Southern director of grade crossing safety. “Our goal is to share information that will stop people from risking their lives by trying to beat a train to the crossing or using railroad tracks as a shortcut.”
Elizabeth Gregory, who was aboard the train, said the information captured the passengers’ attention, and the train seemed to draw outside attention.
“I noticed yesterday that there were several what they call rail fans out and at a safe distance, taking photos, because it’s an unusual train,” Gregory said.
Gregory said the ride was perspective altering, as screens displayed live video feed from the point of view of an engineer.
“What they did was they had a camera at the front of the train, so we could see what the engineers see,” Gregory said. “It’s a way of bringing home what the engineer faces on a regular basis.”
Gregory said a new safety campaign, See Tracks? Think Train! made an impression.
“One of the issues they were trying to bring attention to is tracks are private property,” Gregory said.”They don’t want people on the tracks, because people don’t know when trains are coming.”
Norfolk Southern shared statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration, which underscored the importance of rail safety.
In 2014, 267 people died in highway-rail grade crossing incidents. This represents a 16 percent increase in fatalities from 2013.
Deaths caused by trespassing on train tracks increased by 22 percent to 526, as well. In South Carolina, five deaths and eight injuries were caused by trespassing. In 2014, there were three deaths and 22 injuries in South Carolina, as a result of vehicle-train collision.
“The use of cell phones, texting and listening to music while driving has contributed to people being distracted from the roadway and the warning signs alerting them to railroad tracks,” said Cowen. “People do not realize that it is criminal trespassing to walk on or near railroad tracks. Not only is it against the law, you could lose your life.”
Reach Ben Hohenstatt at 803-635-4016. Follow him on Twitter @WinnsboroHerald