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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 while intoxicated.

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 fatality.
 

Local railroad 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 whole ordeal.

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.