Graphic ads warn of danger near railroad tracks

Posted: June 10, 2012

NJ Transit presented two rather blunt public service announcements Friday with a simple plea: "Stay off the tracks." The goal is to reduce railroad fatalities.

Titled "You Don't Win" and "You're Dead," the ads that will begin running this weekend on broadcast and cable networks in Philadelphia and New York give dramatic, firsthand accounts from police and transit workers involved in recent fatalities and from the families of people who were killed.

Three deaths last fall were apparently part of a widespread problem on railroads in the region — people trespassing on tracks who are accidentally killed and those who enter the danger zone to commit suicide. In the last two years, at least 91 people have been killed by trains on NJ Transit and SEPTA lines, officials have said.

With scripts that offer powerful quotes — such as one from a train engineer who recalls "that sickening thump that you know is somebody's life just ended" and the state police lieutenant who holds up a Baggie and notes "this is the size of the bag we'll use ... to collect what's left of you on the tracks" — the 30-second spots drive home the danger of wandering onto railroad tracks.

The spots were announced at news conferences Friday in Camden and Fair Lawn by James Simpson, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and chairman of the NJ Transit board; James Weinstein, executive director of NJ Transit; and members of a special safety committee. The New Jersey Railroad Safety Crossing Leadership Oversight Committee was formed late last year to devise track-safety initiatives after three teens were killed in two separate accidents in October in North Jersey, Simpson said.

The committee, whose members are from agencies as far flung as the Federal Railroad Administration and the New Jersey Department of Education, was charged with quickly coming up with recommendations to "mitigate the senseless, tragic deaths," according to Simpson.

As a result of those recommendations, NJ Transit is launching more aggressive enforcement efforts, preparing to install new barriers at gate crossings, and adding technological warning systems, in addition to the graphic public service announcements, Simpson said in a statement.

The ad spots are designed to appeal to both adults and children with a "between the eyes" style that also includes "personal perspectives."

"It was a horrible tragedy that could have been averted ... if we had just stayed off the tracks," says Matt Mattheiss, who was involved in an accident in South Orange in 1972 that killed three of his teenage friends.

Billy Carroll of Westmont shares how his life "changed forever" when he learned of his son's death along the Atlantic City line in November 2009.

"Making bad choices along the tracks impacts everyone — from the train engineer who can't stop the train in time to the police who have to identify the victim and deliver the news to their family," Simpson said. "These tough new ads take this effort to the next level. They offer an unmistakable message: Stay off the tracks."

Because children and teens aren't the only ones who make bad choices when it comes to trespassing on train tracks, NJ Transit also is deploying "dynamic message" signs to flash warnings at high-risk grade crossing to warn about the importance of obeying safety regulations, and "second train coming" signs in specific North Jersey locations.

Gate skirts will be installed at other North Jersey crossings to provide a second barrier to prevent pedestrians from ducking under crossing gates in areas notorious for such activity.

NJ Transit also has implemented a Trespasser Intrusion Program for employees to identify and report suspicious trespasser activity and patterns on the tracks so the proper law enforcement authorities can be notified.

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downashore.

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