How Operation Lifesaver can help your transit system’s safety program

Posted on August 27, 2014 by Joyce Rose - Also by this author

Transit is one of the safest ways to travel in the U.S. According to the National Safety Council, the lifetime odds of being killed as a rail passenger are 1 in 178,000, compared to the 1 in 415 odds of being killed as an occupant of a passenger car. Under the 2012 MAP-21 Act, which requires the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to create a national public transportation safety plan, transit systems throughout the U.S. must develop and implement agency safety plans that meet performance criteria, standards, and employee training requirements laid out in the national safety plan.

RELATED: Reinforcing Rail Safety to Prevent Crossing, Tresspassing Incidents

A closer look at recent transit fatality statistics reveals where the problem areas lie. According to FTA statistics, 262 people died in transit-related incidents in 2012 (not including commuter rail systems, which are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration). Seventy-one percent, or 186, of these fatalities were pedestrians and trespassers, non-employee occupants in transit facilities, or occupants of privately-owned vehicles that collided with transit vehicles. Twenty-three percent, or 61 people, committed suicide. Only 15 transit-related fatalities in 2012 were passengers or employees.

In other words, the vast majority of fatalities on transit systems are caused by the same behaviors that led to 96 percent of all fatalities on the general railway system last year: people driving, walking, or bicycling in an unsafe manner around rail crossings and railroad tracks, or acting carelessly on rail stations and platforms.

This is why I have been a passionate advocate for active transit agency involvement in the organization I lead: Operation Lifesaver, the national rail safety education organization whose mission is to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on rail property. Operation Lifesaver spreads its safety message through a nationwide network of trained volunteers who educate people about rail safety. Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteers (OLAVs) make safety presentations to the public, including school groups, new drivers, truck and bus companies, law enforcement representatives, emergency responders, and other community groups. Many transit systems are already part of the Operation Lifesaver family; some 25 different transit agencies have employees who are OL volunteers, including Charlotte Area Transit System, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and Utah Transit Authority.

It is easy and fun to become an OLAV. After filling out an online application, an applicant goes through Operation Lifesaver’s online authorized volunteer education program that reviews the basics of public safety around rail systems and helps volunteers understand the most effective ways to make connections in the community and arrange safety presentations. Following completion of the online classroom session, the potential volunteer has a face-to-face session with his or her Operation Lifesaver state coordinator or Operation Lifesaver coach to learn OL’s policies and procedures and practice making safety presentations. OLAVs have access to Operation Lifesaver’s educational materials to use in their presentations; some materials are geared specifically to transit systems and their safety issues.

How can Operation Lifesaver help your transit system’s safety program be more effective? Incorporating a proven public safety education program like Operation Lifesaver into your agency’s safety plan is a smart and cost-effective way to address transit safety issues with the highest risk of injury or death. Providing public safety education as an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer builds stronger relationships between your transit agency and the community you serve, and it saves lives. The link to begin your journey as an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer is at:

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Read our previous blog, "Tackling Rail Maintenance 'Blitz'-Style to Minimize 'Down' Time"

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