Look, listen and live

There’s a good reason why Union Pacific Railroad Conductor Don Heddinger brought a message of railroad safety to students at the Fort Dodge Middle School Thursday.

“Most, if not all of these students, have to cross the railroad tracks to get to school or get home,” he said.

Whether they do that in their parents’ car, a school bus, on foot or by bike, the basic message remains the same.

“Stay off, stay away, stay alive,” he said.

Even though the students don’t drive yet, there are still plenty of ways for them to get hurt or killed on railroad property.

Walking on the tracks is one of those. The re-enactment of an actual accident is part of a video the students were shown.

It renders the room silent. A train bears down on a young woman who’s wearing headphones and simply doesn’t hear the train come up behind her.

She’s killed when it hits her, despite the crew’s effort to stop the train and alert her to get off the tracks.

The engineer who was driving that day narrates the film.

“You’ll never forget it,” the engineer says in the video. “It’s a shame to waste a life like that.”

Afterwards, Heddinger told students that it takes a train up to 1.5 miles to stop. In addition, because of their size, it’s impossible to judge their speed.

“They’re closer and faster than you think,” he said.

Any train can be expected to move at any time, just as any given set of tracks can have a train on them.

“Trains run seven days a week and 24 hours a day,” he said.

He warned the students that crawling under, on or over railroad cars is extremely dangerous.

“There’s never any reason to crawl under or over them,” he said.

Another danger that he warned about is placing objects on the track to see what happens when they are run over by the train. A classic example of that are pennies and other coins.

It’s a horrible idea, he said, because while it won’t derail the train, the object has to go somewhere.

“They can come out of there like bullets,” he said.

Heddinger encouraged each of the students to be a leader among their peers when it comes to resisting the temptation to cut through railroad property.

“You have to be the one that says no,” he said.

Heddinger also discussed the issue of trespass. As a rule of thumb, the 50 feet on each side of the track belongs to the railroad. The only legal way across is at a grade crossing.

If someone trespasses, railroads take it seriously and they will press charges.

Faith Wiley was one of the students who heard Heddinger’s presentation.

Her lesson of the day?

“That you can’t go on their property,” she said.

She’s got a plan for where she goes in the future.

“I’m going to avoid it,” she said.

Jayden Johnson took home a lesson too; she didn’t know the train wheels could send objects flying at high speed.

“They can really hurt you,” she said.

Chaddrena Nickerson learned a bit also.

“Don’t walk on the train tracks,” she said. “Stay away.”

Heddinger will be seeing many of the students in the future; he also talks to driver’s education classes and conducts Operation Lifesaver presentations.

His safety message is easy to remember.

“Look, listen and live,” he said.