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A firsthand look at close calls with trains

Detroit Free Press: A firsthand look at close calls with trains

BY TAMMY STABLES BATTAGLIA
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

For Operation Lifesaver, a bicyclist proved to be the perfect example of what not to do at a train crossing.

A camera mounted on the front of a Norfolk Southern engine traveling from Sterling Heights to Monroe and back Wednesday on a safety promotion trip captured the moment the male bicyclist crossed the tracks in front of the oncoming train in Detroit.

Little did the cyclist know, more than 80 people inside two passenger cars behind the engine were watching him on monitors beaming the camera's signal.

"He definitely needs an ass-chewing," Mark Zellman, a Detroit Police Fatal Squad officer who investigates deaths on Detroit train tracks, said after watching the man cross just far enough in front of the oncoming train to get across without incident.

The moment emphasized the mission of Operation Lifesaver, which was created in 1972 as a public awareness program to cut down the number of accidents involving trains, motorists and pedestrians.

Michigan tied for 13th out of the 50 states last year in the number of train crossing crashes, with 48 collisions and 12 deaths, according to Operation Lifesaver. Texas had the most crashes, with 177 collisions and 23 deaths, followed by California, with 111 collisions and 30 deaths.

During Wednesday's trip, the driver of a burgundy minivan drove around crossing gates at Outer Drive in Detroit, passing illegally in front of the Operation Lifesaver train. A white van started around the gates after another train went through, its driver realizing just in time that the Operation Lifesaver train was coming from the other direction.

"People are in such a rush," said Norfolk-Southern casualty claims agent Nikkita Randle of Canton, who makes condolence call visits to victims' families and crash survivors during her investigations.

The day's message was especially poignant to Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte, whose daughter was killed in 2001 at a train crossing at Metro Parkway and Groesbeck in Clinton Township while on her way home from work.

"I applaud it, if there's any way you can help prevent accidents," he said.