Meet OL Rail Safety Ambassador Stephen Cross

So far 2021 hasn’t really been a year worth celebrating. But not for Operation Lifesaver (OL). We’re marking 40 years of saving lives. And we think that’s a reason to celebrate!
Throughout 2021, we’ll be shining light on some the great work that our Rail Safety Ambassadors do to help us get the rail safety message out to Canadians—because we couldn’t do what we do without them.
Stephen Cross is one of those Rail Safety Ambassadors. He’s the chair of Operation Lifesaver’s Alberta committee and works for Clifton, an engineering company that supports the rail industry in Western Canada. He spoke to OL about why spreading the rail safety message is important to him.
Why did you decide to get involved with OL?

I worked for Canadian Pacific Railway and as part of my training as a locomotive engineer I saw situations where crossing safety was not being followed. People don't seem to understand that trains can't stop quickly. So, you have to do public education to try to get people to respect crossings. If I can put my experience in front of the public and save one life, it's all worth it.
What one thing do you wish people would understand about trains and tracks?
That a train can't stop quickly. A long train going 80 kilometres an hour will take approximately two kilometres to stop—whether you're in the front of it or not. And a train hitting a car is roughly equivalent to a car hitting a pop can. And people just don't understand that. In one of the seminars I did, I actually had a pop can with me and took the can and crushed it and said, “Imagine if you hit this with your car. OK, now imagine if a train hits a car. It's almost the same thing.” As a locomotive engineer in training, that was one of the things I was very concerned about. That if I ever got into an accident and killed somebody, I would always have that doubt. “Did I do everything I could have done to prevent it?” And that would have haunted me for a long time.
What would you say if you could speak directly to people who take risks around railway crossings, tracks and trains?

Please just think. Think about what you're risking. You're risking your life and the lives of your family, because if something happens to you, your family is never going to be the same. Even think of the locomotive engineer who's driving the train. They have a family too. They’re affected by this. And that's not what they signed up for. They signed up to do a job for a railway. So please just think.
What do you personally get out of being a Rail Safety Ambassador?
I've always been very safety oriented. I'm on the safety committee for our company within Alberta. So, what do I get out of it? I might have an opportunity to save someone's life just by educating them, and getting them to think twice before doing something like racing a train to a crossing.
Why do you think it’s important that an organization like OL exists in Canada?
Operation Lifesaver is such a good resource and such a good way of getting the rail safety message out there. Over its four decades, if they have saved one life, it's all worth it.  And I know you probably can't count the number of lives that have been saved because someone has educated someone else, who educated someone else—that education cascades down. Somewhere along the line, somebody has thought twice before failing to stop at a crossing , or trying to race a train, or walking along the tracks when they know they shouldn't be. And if it saved one life, to me, it's worth it.
Want to join Stephen and OL’s team of Rail Safety Ambassadors from coast to coast? Join us in  celebrating our 40th anniversary by signing up today—and help us save lives.