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Program highlights hazards of railroad crossings in Northeast Georgia
Norfolk Southern employees help guide the “Operation Lifesaver” train Wednesday afternoon at the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth. - photo by Lee Johnson | The Times

Local dignitaries and law enforcement officials were given the opportunity to witness firsthand some dangers associated with traversing the state’s rail system.

Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide program dedicated to preventing injuries and deaths at highway-rail intersections, took 100 people from 29 jurisdictions on a train ride through Northeast Georgia.

The passengers, from Hall, Gwinnett and Habersham counties, among others, were guided from Duluth to Toccoa and shown some real dangers.

“The whole idea is to show law enforcement professionals and community leaders the importance of railroads in Georgia, but also how dangerous they can be,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, between 2006 and 2011, there were 16 collisions involving trains in Hall County. Those collisions resulted in five injuries and one death.

“The general public sometimes thinks that the tracks are public property,” said Jennie Glasgow, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver. “They also don’t understand that trains can’t stop quickly.”

She said trains can sometimes take more than a mile to stop completely.

Capt. Keith Smith of the Gainesville Fire Department was along for the ride. He said he saw some crossings in Hall County that were not equipped with notification systems, as well as people putting their lives in danger near the rails.

“As we went through Gainesville there were people walking on the tracks,” said Smith. “I watched a gentleman, myself, sleeping in the woods (near the tracks).”

Passengers were able to watch a live video feed from the front of the engine as the train made its way through the area.

“Railroad transportation is so vital to our state,” said Blackwood. “But this shows how railroads work and how you have to be very, very careful.”

Hall County has 83 rail crossings, more than Gwinnett, Banks and Habersham counties combined.

Since 2002, there have been one death at crossings and three deaths from trespassing on the tracks.

“It was a great time and a great trip,” said Smith. “I learned a lot and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Glasgow said the other passengers also felt the trip was informational and worthwhile.

“We feel it was definitely a success and the comments we already have from our guests were great,” she said.