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The two-engine train was rolling from Warrensburg to Decatur. The semi-truck carrying grain was southbound on Glasgow Road.

The many tons of metal –- one on the road, one on the rails -– collided near Route 121. A medical helicopter was called in for the truck driver, an indication of the sheer power of the impact.

The circumstances of what happened Wednesday are still being sorted out, but the incident again highlights how dangerous a locomotive and train cars can be.

In fact, ironically, the Norfolk Southern Railway also launched a safety outreach program on Wednesday –- the same day as the Route 121 crash -– to underscore that very point.

Police for the railroad met with businesses and residents from Edwards Street to Martin Luther King Drive, a 1.5-mile stretch that officials say continues to have problems with people coming onto the tracks. Forty-four people were stopped last year for criminal trespassing and two people, believed to be homeless, were killed.

Norfolk Southern estimates as many as 60 trains a day operate in our community, and the spiderweb of tracks present plenty of opportunities for the curious or those looking for a shortcut to encounter incredible danger. A stumble or a trip could mean serious injury, especially since it takes the length of 18 football fields for a train going 55 mph to come to a complete stop.

Think about that.

Decatur is not alone in this respect.

Statewide, 22 fatalities last year are attributed to people trespassing on railroad property, the seventh highest tally in the U.S., according to the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. Another 24 were killed in crossing collisions, or the second most in America.

Some of that is because of the sheer size of the state’s expansive train network, which at 7,400 miles of track ranks second in the country. Consider there are 10,790 public highway rail grade crossings in Illinois.

We rely on the lines to transport our goods and drive the economy.

But too often motorists and pedestrians ignore flashing lights and honking horns. Engineers and railroad sometimes have to watch helplessly. The police organization estimates 95 percent of rail-related deaths involve a driver trying to beat a train or someone trespassing on rail properties.

The message from Norfolk Southern Railway is important because trains are such an fixed part of our landscape that one might forget just how powerful a 415,000-pound locomotive can be.

That education effort, which also included Decatur and Millikin University police, is important because the message is worth repeating again and again in our train-heavy community: Only cross tracks in marked areas and be mindful of horns and signals. Your life depends on it.

Because in the case of train collisions, the train always wins.


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