WASHINGTON — In 1972 the annual average number of U.S. grade crossing collisions had risen to 12,000. Concerned about this tragic situation, the Idaho governor’s office, Idaho Peace Officers, and the Union Pacific Railroad launched a 6-week public awareness educational campaign called Operation Lifesaver to promote highway-railroad grade crossing safety. Idaho’s crossing-related fatalities decreased that year by 43%. Nebraska followed in 1973 launching their own Operation Lifesaver program. Kansas and Georgia joined the effort in 1974. A decade later, the Operation Lifesaver program had spread across the country. In 1986 a non-profit Operation Lifesaver national office was created to help support the efforts of state programs and raise national awareness on highway-rail grade crossing issues.
Currently Operation Lifesaver’s national network of authorized volunteer speakers and trained instructors present hundreds of free rail safety education programs annually across the U.S. OL programs are available to school groups, driver education classes, community members at large, professional drivers, law enforcement officers, and emergency responders. In many instances programs are co-sponsored by federal, state, and local government agencies, highway safety organizations and America’s railroads.
Among Kalmbach employees Tom Hoffmann, librarian for the David P. Morgan Memorial Library, is an authorized Operation Lifesaver volunteer. During the year, Hoffmann presents the train safety program to new drivers at Whitewater (Wis.) High School along with staffing information booths at numerous Milwaukee area events and festivals. During this Rail Safety week you will find Hoffmann riding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago, talking to passengers about safety around trains. He will also be helping staff a train safety information booth at the Waukesha Farmers Market.
“I volunteer with Operation Lifesaver to help inform new drivers how to be safe around railroads as they begin driving,” says Hoffmann. “It’s important to me that I help people understand general rail safety practices when they are near the tracks. We should all know basic things like how to interact with the Emergency Notification System signs posted at every grade crossing.”
Remember — Safety around railroads concerns everyone and is your responsibility.
If you would like to schedule an Operation Lifesaver program or become a volunteer, please visit: oli.org/about-us/who-we-are and contact the coordinator for your state.