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Editorial: Railroad tracks always life-threatening route

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The Indiana Rail Road Co. recently released video taken from the perspective of the conductor of a train as it passed over two women who had trespassed on an 80-foot-tall railway bridge in nearby Monroe County.

“Railroad tracks are private property, they are not public thoroughfares, and they are very dangerous,” company officials said in a statement, adding that this was never more clear than after the recent, near-fatal incident.

Eric Powell, a railroad manager, said that just before 7 a.m. July 10 a train was headed northeast in Monroe County, approaching Lake Lemon, when the train’s engineer saw two women in the train’s path. He said the women were trespassing on the middle of a bridge that spanned an inlet of Lake Lemon. The bridge is 500 feet long and 80 feet high.

The engineer reportedly stuck to protocol, immediately applying the emergency brake and sounding the horn. But as the women ran from the train, the engineer said he was helpless to do more as the train caught up with them.

One woman lay down on the tracks, and the other apparently considered jumping off the bridge. Then, with the train just 30 feet away, the second woman lay down on the tracks.

The engineer said that, by the time the train came to a stop, it had passed the point where the women stopped running. He quickly called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. But the two women survived, Powell said, and they escaped to a nearby car and got away.

They have since been identified and are facing mis-demeanor charges.

“The consequences of trespassing on railroad-owned property are never taken seriously by those choosing to do so, and this incident at Lake Lemon is one of the most glaring examples I’ve seen in more than 40 years in this business,” said Tom Hoback, founder, president and CEO of Indiana Rail Road Co., which has tracks that run through Johnson County.

More than 900 people were killed last year in the U.S. by trespassing on railroads, including 28 in Indiana, according to Indiana Rail Road Co.

Walking along railroad tracks is dangerous at any time. In March 2012, a Franklin teenager was listening to music through earphones while walking along the tracks and didn’t hear an approaching train. He was struck and critically injured.

He was hospitalized for two months and required months of rehabilitation after that.

According to the rail safety website Operation Lifesaver, a freight train can extend 3 feet or even more beyond the rails, meaning people could be hit without being on the tracks themselves.

Also, today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale “clackety-clack.” An approaching train is always closer and moving faster than you think.

This recent incident from Monroe County is a chilling reminder to use common sense around trains and to stay off the tracks.

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