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In Houston and Chicago, Rail Safety Is 'Highest Priority,' 'Nothing Off the Table'

Public transit agencies in Houston and Chicago are putting the spotlight on rail safety through community partnerships and outreach programs.

At a March 3 event in Houston, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) introduced representatives from Bike Houston, Rice University, the Texas Medical Center and city of Houston Public Works as its partners in making safety on and around METRORail light rail a community priority.

“METRO is making safety enhancements. Also, everyone who walks, drives or rides a bike is responsible for safety. We all must be alert. We must pay attention when we are moving around. If you see track, think train,” METRO Board Chair Carrin Patman said at the event.

The agency has conducted a comprehensive study of intersections as part of its safety effort, along with introducing louder horns, reflective paint and brightly colored vehicle wraps to increase public awareness. It is using social media to spread the public safety message as part of its community education and engagement campaign.

METRO President & CEO Tom Lambert said, “Nothing—and I repeat, nothing—is off the table. We are looking at things that have traditionally been done and some things that are outside the box.”

In Chicago, Metra commuter rail has scheduled safety blitzes in conjunction with Operation Lifesaver at 51 train stations across the six-county region this year as part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen safe behavior around trains and tracks.

“Safety is always Metra’s highest priority,” said Don Orseno, Metra executive director/CEO. “These safety blitzes allow us to reach our customers directly to ensure that we all stay vigilant about safety around the railroad.”

During a blitz, Metra safety employees will visit a commuter rail station during the morning commute, distributing educational materials about train and grade crossing safety, answering questions and listening to commuters’ safety concerns. Customers can also watch a short video on grade crossing safety while they wait for their train. While the program is primarily educational, Metra’s Police Department will conduct additional enforcement blitzes at locations where they have previously issued citations and warnings to pedestrians and drivers who ignore gates and warning devices.

Metra also promotes safety through its annual poster and essay contest for schoolchildren and conducts almost 1,000 free Operation Lifesaver presentations annually to schools, community groups, school bus drivers, professional truck drivers, emergency responders and others.
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