Just the gory facts, Ma’am. Operation Lifesaver and Union Station unite

OK, so maybe a video of a car getting crunched by a train isn’t your favorite thing.

It isn’t UTA’s either, or the Union Pacific’s.

Those cars ding up their engines something awful. They scrape the paint and make crunching and crashing noises. Then there’s the people inside the cars, screaming all over the place.

Dying. Who needs it?

Which is why Operation Lifesaver, a statewide education program to prevent train-people confrontations,  just spent $16,000 on a very large mural and two computerized educational kiosks at Union Station. Their goal is to keep people from getting run over by trains, squashed by trains, cut into little bits by trains and killed by trains.

Vern Keesler in front of new mural

The new mural and kiosks are in the Utah State Railroad Museum housed in Union Station. Operation Lifesaver had a ribbon cutting Monday night to let folks they are there, but they’ve actually been operational for several weeks and are seeing good business.

Vern Keesler, Operation Lifesaver state coordinator, said he’s already had to refill the racks of coloring books and other information. He said the kiosks contain several public service announcements and interactive games designed to show visitors the dangers of playing around trains, trying to beat trains across crossings, and even trying to get onto trains.

Everyone has a favorite horror story. Norm Nelson, Brigham City, is on the Operation Lifesaver board of directors. He said he knows a guy who was the conductor on a freight that hit a car full of kids in Box Elder County several years ago, killing three.

Apparently the kids were playing a common game where they try to chase the train, seeing how close they can beat it to a crossing and pass in front of it. The kids timing was off just a smidge, and the conductor saw it all.

“He never got over it,” Norm said. “He said he could always just see that little girl’s face looking up,” just before the car was hit.

Sherry Ferrin cuts the ribbon for Operation

Lifesaver kiosks in Union Station

UTA Chief Safety Officer Dave Geores, who is also on the Operation Lifesaver board, said the effort is working. “We’ve reduced our incidents and accidents over 50 percent since expanding our partnership with Operation Lifesaver in the last three years,” he said. Utah’s record “is the envy of Operation Lifesaver nationally.”

Sherry Ferrin did the huge murals, showing a Union Pacific and UTA FrontRunner engine barreling down the track. She did them in three months last winter, dealing with the massive job and the station’s erratic heating system.

“It’s more painted instead of just like a mural,” she said. “It’s one I wanted to have a lot of feeling and more emotion.”

Which it has. The painted engines are such a massive scale that they feel as if they’re bearing down on you while you stand there.

Which is the point. When one of those things is coming at you for real, it can’t stop and you will die.

Commissioner Jan Zogmaister and UTA Public Affairs

specialist Kent Jorgensen.

Weber County Commissioner Jan Zogmaister, who also chairs the Utah State Railroad Museum Authority, said Operation Lifesaver will be increasingly critical as Weber County, and all of Utah, grows.

“Transportation has changed as we have more and more trains and more and more growth and a lot of that growth is in rural areas where trains are operating,” she said.

Trains really aren’t anything to fool around with. They’re so massive that you might as well not be there, which means the train doesn’t really care if you are under its wheels. Does a steamroller care if it runs over an ant?

I still remember, years ago, talking to a hobo I found sleeping in the yards. He was a veteran of many rides, and I remember he only had one leg.

What happened to the other?

He fell asleep by the tracks, probably as a result of alcohol. Whatever, he woke up with a train bearing down and couldn’t get out of the way in time.

He said the steel wheel slid through is leg like a hot knife through butter. “It just rolled right through me,” he said.

And if that image doesn’t keep you away from trains, go check out the kiosks. They’ve got lots more.

Sherry Ferrin shows off her work.