‘Safety Blitz’ hits East Falls to promote safe rail riding

 SEPTA safety officers handing out information to commuters on Thursday morning. (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks)

SEPTA safety officers handing out information to commuters on Thursday morning. (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks)

In light of last month’s incident involving a man being struck — and killed — by a train in East Falls, a public “safety blitz” was held at the East Falls Regional Rail Station along the Manayunk/Norristown Line Thursday morning.

SEPTA authorities and local officials including State Rep. Pam DeLissio and members of the East Falls town watch gathered along the station platform to remind the public of the dangers of failing to adhere to prescribed safety precautions and regulations while on or near the tracks.

The event was held in conjunction with Operation Lifesaver, SEPTA’s free safety program designed to reach out to schools and community organizations to instill a healthy attitude toward safety around rail and trolley lines.

The stats

According to SEPTA, nearly 11,000 passengers ride SEPTA’s Manayunk/Norristown line between Montgomery County and Center City every day.

Almost 1,200 of those daily passengers use the East Falls Station. Last month’s incident marked the seventh SEPTA-related fatality in East Falls since 1997, plus one non-fatal accident that occurred in May 2010.

Since 2003 there have been, on average, approximately 11 deaths per year on SEPTA’s rails.

Burnett Jones has been the chief accident investigator for SEPTA since 2004.

According to Jones, events such as Thursday’s safety blitz are held regularly throughout the year in an effort to decrease the number of SEPTA related accidents and deaths and to increase public awareness.

“Whether these deaths are intentional or not, we are always interested in putting the safety of our riders first,” Jones said, noting that many train-related incidents are suicides.

The East Falls incident in June was ruled an accident.

The morning commute

As passengers boarded the trains during the morning rush, Jones, DeLissio, transit police and SEPTA safety officers passed out brochures and verbal reminders to the local regional rail riders.

Erin Hulse is an East Falls resident who began riding the regional rail regularly just three months ago. Hulse said that while she has never witnessed safety violations taking place along the tracks, last month’s incident has put her on higher alert.

“I think it’s helpful that the SEPTA officials are out here trying to increase our safety and awareness,” she said.

For Jones and his fellow safety officers, constant awareness of riders’ surroundings is the key for public safety along rail systems. With the increased use of headsets, ear buds and cell phones, Jones noted passengers have become increasingly less aware.

“A train could be going by express or be a redirected deadhead,” he stated. “Don’t automatically assume that because a train is approaching a platform, that it is going to be stopping.”

Other key safety reminders stressed at Thursday’s blitz included never crossing the tracks anywhere except designated over and underpasses and never walking alongside or in the track area.

“People have been receptive to the information we’re providing them today,” Delissio said. “Even those who may have not had their coffee yet, they know we have their best interest in mind.”

Anyone interested in requesting an Operation Lifesaver presentation at their school or organization can contact (215) 580-7800.

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