Rail Safety Week 2020: Law enforcement and first responders participate in Operation Clear Track

Sept. 23, 2020
More than 600 agencies are participating in the virtual event to spread a message of safety around rail property with an end goal of decreasing the number of annual preventable incidents.

Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada participated in the fourth annual Operation Clear Track as part of Rail Safety Week 2020. The initiative, which is organized by Operation Lifesaver, Inc., Operation Lifesaver Canada and Amtrak, is called the largest rail-safety law-enforcement initiative in North America.  

The initiative mobilizes hundreds of law enforcement representatives and first responders to simultaneously deliver rail safety messages across the continent. Operation Clear Track, as with other Rail Safety Week events, has transitioned to a virtual program due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, more than 645 police departments, sheriff’s offices and other agencies participated in the initiative and distributed more than 70,000 railroad safety cards at high-incident crossings and other locations.

“The first responders who signed up this year to electronically share our rail safety message are the same men and women who report to the scene when a railroad incident occurs,” said Amtrak Police Chief Sam Dotson. “They know better than most, the tragic aftermath of these calls, and are our best ambassadors when it comes to warning the public about the deadly consequences of ignoring state grade crossing and trespassing laws. We hope communities pay attention to their voices and choose to do the right thing around trains and train tracks this year and every year.”  

Safety resources shared by first responders pledging to take part in Operation Clear Track 2020 include social media messaging, rail safety videos and an online version of a safety tips card for drivers and pedestrians handed out during previous in-person Operation Clear Track events.

The ultimate goal of Operation Clear Track is to reduce the annual number of railway crossing and trespassing incidents in which more than 2,100 people are seriously injured or killed. Operation Lifesaver, Inc., notes a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours in the U.S.  

“A split-second decision to try to beat a train at a crossing, or to use tracks as a shortcut or a recreational path, can have tragic consequences,” said Sarah Mayes, national director of Operation Lifesaver Canada. “Operation Clear Track’s goal is to encourage people to think twice before engaging in unsafe behaviors and to learn how to keep themselves safe around tracks and trains.” 

Participating departments will also post information focusing on the importance of obeying state railroad grade crossing and trespassing laws throughout Rail Safety Week.

“While we have made strides in reducing deaths and injuries, the goal of Operation Clear Track and other Rail Safety Week activities is empowering individuals and communities to be safe around tracks and raise rail safety awareness. We appreciate the ongoing safety partnership of the first responder community,” said Operation Lifesaver, Inc. Executive Director Rachel Maleh.  

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.