SEPTA launches rail safety program

SEPTA director of system safety, Scott Sauer, in silhouette, stands in front of a slide on a screen and talks about the active warning devices set up around a railroad crossing and what they all means at the Nazareth Academy grade school. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
SEPTA director of system safety, Scott Sauer, in silhouette, stands in front of a slide on a screen and talks about the active warning devices set up around a railroad crossing and what they all means at the Nazareth Academy grade school. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: May 02, 2013

Trying to reduce a growing death toll on SEPTA rails, 500 transit employees and volunteers will swarm local rail stations and bus stops on Wednesday to warn people to stay off the tracks.

Students at Nazareth Academy Grade School in Northeast Philadelphia got a preview of the message Tuesday from Scott Sauer, SEPTA director of system safety.

"Any time is train time," Sauer said, noting that in a collision, a car is to a train as a soda can is to a car. He said more than 1,000 people are killed each year by trains nationwide.

In the first four months of 2013, eight people have been killed in accidents or suicides on SEPTA's Regional Rail and Broad Street subway tracks. That puts the authority on a pace to exceed the 12 such deaths in 2012.

"I don't know why, but it seems like the suicide of choice these days is death by train," Sauer said Tuesday.

Six people were killed by SEPTA trains in 2010, the same number as in 2009.

Three years ago, a double suicide by train devastated Delaware County's Glenolden Borough and brought renewed attention to the danger.

In that tragedy, Vanessa M. Dorwart, 15, and Gina C. Gentile, 16, students at Interboro High School, were killed by an Amtrak train as they embraced on the tracks near the Norwood station. The girls reportedly were despondent over a friend's recent death.

Because tracks often are accessible and unguarded, they can be magnets for those looking for a shortcut, an adventure, or an end to life.

Sauer on Tuesday showed 125 fifth- through eighth-graders at Nazareth Academy cautionary photographs of teens and adults putting themselves in danger: walking, jogging, biking along tracks, climbing between rail cars, putting their ears to the tracks.

Eleven-year-old Kathryn Tereshko said she got the message: "No matter what we do around trains, there's always the chance of something dangerous happening."

Wednesday morning's safety blitz will send SEPTA officials, employees and other volunteers to 160 rail, trolley and bus stations with warning leaflets.

Sauer and general manager Joseph Casey will make their pitch along the West Trenton line between the Trevose and Somerton stations, where pedestrians and other "trespassers" have easy access to the tracks.

Three people have been killed by trains on the West Trenton Line since March, 2012.

Other top SEPTA officials will be greeting commuters with their somber message on Wednesday morning at stations in Ambler, Malvern and Springfield, Delaware County.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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