That fact is from the official records of a program called “Operation Lifesaver Tennessee.”
Earlier this month several representatives from our city joined others from Hamilton and Bradley counties aboard a Norfolk Southern special observation train for a short ride from the Cleveland Depot to the Sweetwater Depot. It was a scenic ride for passengers as the train went through some of the most beautiful and historic areas of our adjoining counties.
This was not just an excursion, but part of the annual public awareness safety campaign by the railroad and its Operation Lifesaver program. A camera mounted on the locomotive allowed the passengers in the two restored Pullman passenger cars to see on monitors what the engineer was seeing through his view in the engine car.
"Keep your eyes peeled," Jill Moody, Operation Lifesaver Tennessee coordinator, told the passengers. Sure enough, within minutes there was a man on foot scrambling to get off the tracks ahead of the train.
A short time afterward in McMinn County, a woman pedestrian walked in front of the train at a crossing, even though the crossing bar was down and the lights were flashing. She was pushing a baby stroller and it appeared there was a child inside!
There have been some close calls at railroad crossings in nearby communities in recent weeks. A month ago, a young man in Dalton, Ga., narrowly escaped injury when he drove around an activated railroad crossing barricade. And just last weekend, according to The Associated Press, five young people were badly injured when the driver of their SUV tried to beat a train across the tracks, according to Nashville police reports.
Many of us know that in past years our own community has been the scene of tragedies at railroad crossings as well.
At Sweetwater, the train took on a new set of passengers for the next short ride — to Knoxville. Buses brought the first group back to Cleveland. It was a well-orchestrated excursion with the mission to inform and allow riders to see firsthand what trains encounter daily as they roll along the tracks in East Tennessee.
Our community's relationship with railroads goes back more than a century. They are, and have always been, a key part of our economy, providing jobs and serving other industries that bring us jobs. They have been an appreciated part of our city for a very long time.
But it is a good idea for all of us, even those of us with years of experience driving and living near railroads, to get a safety reminder now and then.
Norfolk Southern and Operation Lifesaver have four words to remember, "See Tracks? Think Train."
Each state has an Operation Lifesaver program. In Tennessee, the nonprofit organization offers programs for schools, businesses, civic groups and law enforcement. The contact information can be found on their website, tnol.org.