Tracks are for trains, not for daring motorists and people playing trespassing games. That's the message that DART First State is making known in a big way in February and in the months to come. Delaware's Governor Ruth Ann Minner and Lieutenant Governor John C. Carney, Jr. have declared February to be DART First State Railroad Safety Awareness Month in Delaware.
DART First State, an operating division of the Delaware Department of Transportation, is launching an ambitious public education campaign through its Operation Lifesaver (OL) program to make the public better aware of railroad crossing safety practices especially about not trespassing and trying to beat on-coming trains at grade crossings. DART First State, a multi-modal bus and commuter train transit agency providing over 9 million passenger trips each year, oversees state-owned freight rail lines and right-of-ways, and several highway grade crossings.
In Delaware, more than 75% of the State's 297 public grade crossings have active systems. It is reported that nationally only about 33% or one-third of grade crossings are equipped with active signal systems, such as flashing lights or lights and gates. The rest have only the familiar X-shaped cross-buck sign or a stop sign.
The number of trespassing and grade crossing incidents in Delaware remains low compared to other states. Delaware had an average of 4 railroad crossing collisions each year from 1994 through 1998. During 1999 and 2000, the average increased to 10.5 collisions per year.
To further reduce increases in incidents in Delaware and educate drivers, especially new teen drivers, about railroad safety, DART First State's awareness efforts include billboards and bus posters, radio and TV ads, and exhibits and presentations all with the same message - At grade crossings and near the tracks - Stay Off, Stay Away & Stay Alive.
DART First State's OL Delaware program sponsors continuing programs to educate the public as to the inherent dangers of trespassing on, along or near railroad yards, equipment and rights of way, and the appropriate responses to signs and signals at highway-rail grade crossings.
OL Delaware was established in 1986 as part of the national Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) team network. OL works with the federal and state departments of transportation and public safety, the railroad industry, the American Trucking Association, the American Bus Association, and School Transportation providers, the National PTA, the law enforcement community, and other safety activists ranging from school students to retired seniors. Working together since 1972, they have managed to reduce the number of grade crossing crashes nationwide by as much as 70%. This, during a time when both highway and rail traffic have increased over the last 30 years.
OL Delaware has also interacted with more than 150,000 people through exhibits, informational kiosks and full on-site presentations. OL Delaware, with the assistance of Amtrak and Philadelphia's SEPTA transit agency, also hosts a train ride and station tour that reinforces the OL message.