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A great ride for a great cause

Posted by Brian Schmidt
on Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The UP CARES Operation Lifesaver special at Harvard, Ill., on June 7, 2013. Photo by J. David Ingles
This past Friday, June 7, Union Pacific hosted two Operation Lifesaver specials in conjunction with its UP CARES railroad safety awareness program. I got to ride both trips, and the deadhead moves, along with some friends. The first trip we rode from Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago out the Metra UP-NW commuter line to Barrington and return in the dome. Ogilvie is the new name for the old North Western station, or at least the office tower that replaced it. The morning commuter rush is as busy as its ever been there, and once it cleared, our outbound train was ready to roll. Along the way we made stops at Des Planes and Arlington Heights for passengers. After returning downtown, the train deadheaded out to Palatine for an afternoon trip to Harvard, the end of the commuter territory, with passenger stops at Barrington and Crystal Lake.

The forward view from dome car 'Columbine' included the tail end of the Chicago & North Western heritage unit! Photo by Brian Schmidt
The train consisted of three UP passenger cars, dome coach Columbine, coach City of Salina, and business car observation Feather River. It was powered by two SD70ACe heritage units, Missouri Pacific-painted No. 1982 and Chicago & North Western-painted No. 1995. UP added two GP40-2s, Nos. 1361 and 1362, to activate the automatic train stop on the commuter line. (Other recent trips in the area near Peoria and Belvidere did not use these units.) While Amtrak's Superliner lounge cars are probably the best equipment for the railroad's needs, nothing compares to having the front seat in a true dome car!

Union Pacific conductor Larry Markow talks about grade crossing safety in the dome car. Photo by Brian Schmidt
Each trip included a 10 minute talk on railroad safety and statistics presented by a UP employee, each of which is also an Operation Lifesaver volunteer presenter. Presenters regularly talk to school children, community groups, drivers education classes, or CDL applicants about the dangers of being around railroads. On this day, however, they were speaking to a group of emergency first responders, firefighters, medics, and police officers. A few police officers were allowed to ride in the cab and see what train crews face on a daily basis with near-misses. There have even been instances in the past of Operation Lifesaver trains being involved in grade crossing incidents, with police officers in the cab, so always expect a train!

An Operation Lifesaver billboard along the Edens Expressway, and the route of the train! Photo by Brian Schmidt
On the way back downtown on the final trip of the day, the train paused along the Edens Expressway for a photo shoot with an Operation Lifesaver billboard. Each day, tens of thousands of commuters pass the billboard, but more education is still needed. According to Federal Railroad Administration statistics, 1,960 highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred in 2012. About 63 percent of all highway-rail grade crossing collisions that year occurred in just fifteen states, with Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana, and Alabama being the top five. During the same year, 271 fatalities occurred on railroad tracks with California, Texas, and Illinois again in the top three worst states.

Riding in a dome is an experience you will not soon forget, and, coupled with the educational aspect of the trip, made this a great ride for a great cause.

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