|It begins as a
beautiful, sunny morning on Wednesday May 8 as last
minute preparations are being made for what will soon be
the most chilling and emotional re-enactment of one of
the real fears that today's Railroaders and Emergency
Response Teams must deal with all too often. The tragedy
of grade crossing collisions.
With over 100 'unprotected' grade
crossings in the Cochrane Ontario area (unprotected
meaning no flashing lights and gates), ONR Staff headed
by Mark Blanchette and Doug Crawford set out to stage a
mock accident scene showing the 2002 Graduating classes
from both local High Schools the ultimate price of not
watching grade crossings for oncoming trains and driving
Much preparation was
put into the scene of the accident which included a
wrecked car, pieces of the car strewn about to depict an
impact with the train, cameras mounted on GP38-2 1806,
the entire scene caution taped off to give observers a
safe view of the scene, and of course, 6 'very
rehearsed' drama students depicting 5 injured and 1
photographer and ONR Employee Steve Thompson and myself
had the responsibility of documenting the entire
operation in both video and still photography from start
to finish. All of our equipment was set up and we were
ready to get some great images of the whole scenario.
Steve and I board 1806 and wait for the students to
arrive. Soon after, the School buses roll in. The order
is given over the radio to begin.
With a few blows of
the horn, 1806 backs away from the crossing to unveil
the tragedy to the visiting students. Now, I always have
my scanner with me when taking railroad photos and I
hear endless conversations between Running Crews and RTC
Englehart, but when Engineman Clem Yantha dialed up RTC
with the Emergency message to the dispatcher telling him
what happened and to call the authorities, I'll be the
first to admit that a spooky chill went up my spine. As
the Police arrive and assess the scene, and the arrival
of the Fire Crews a moment later, I found myself having
to give my head a shake to remind myself that "Hey, this
is NOT REAL!" as I continue to take photos of the
situation developing right in front of me.
That is honestly how
realistic it looked. Students first witnessed a young
female driver running around the scene screaming in
shock while in a bloody mess from the accident. Police
Officers and Fire Fighters work to keep the young driver
out of the way. Ambulance Crews arrive and check the
victims to prioritize the injuries. Once the injuries
are assessed, the extrication begins with the loud and
eerie sound of a ton of metal being ripped apart by the
Jaws of Life. One student is dead from the crash. He is
removed and placed on the ground by the crossing signal.
A loud gasp comes over the crowd as a Paramedic throws a
blanket over him showing only his shoes.
Fire Fighters are in
the car comforting victims as the car is literally being
ripped apart around them while Paramedic Crews are
forced to wait in anticipation to tend to the injuries.
According to the timer on Steve's video camera, the
entire extrication took about 32 minutes. It felt
emotionally like 32 days. The fatality is the last to
leave the scene as Fire Crews load the body into the
Fire Rescue Truck parked nearby.
With a scattered hulk
of a car to his right and the steady hum of an idling
1806 to his left, Mike, an OPP Officer gave an
emotionally stirring speech to the students at the scene
about the mix of Alcohol and Grade Crossings.
Everyone who was part
of the Mock Grade Crossing Accident then ventured to the
Cochrane High School Auditorium for testimonials from
all involved. Fire and Paramedic Personnel, The
Engineer, and even the students who played the victims,
one of which appeared to be a bit emotional from the
To sum up, the entire
day was considered a complete success with a lot of
people aside from just the High School Students going
home with a new respect for crossbucks and flashing
lights. Congratulations to Mark, Doug, and all involved.
The message was definitely received.