A crowd gathers. There’s a stunned silence, broken only by gasps and somber whispers. They’re huddled in front of a devastating and gruesome scene. A car carrying a group of teenagers has collided with a train. One person has been thrown from the vehicle, his dead body sprawled torn and bloodied on the cold ground. Those remaining in the car are seriously injured.
Unfortunately, scenes like this are too common in Canada. Every year Canadian drivers are killed or injured
when they fail to follow signs and signals at highway-railway crossings
. But, fortunately for those involved in this particular incident, the crumpled car, broken glass, blood and dead body aren’t real. They’re part of a mock collision put on by the Operation Lifesaver New Brunswick committee as part of Rail Safety Week 2016.
The mock collision was held on April 27, 2016, in Saint John, NB at the Douglas Avenue railway crossing, and 400+ Harbour View High School (HVHS) students and spectators were in attendance. By all accounts the event left a profound mark on the young audience, with teenage drivers pledging to drive with care around railway tracks.
Putting on an event of this magnitude is no small feat, so we caught up with one of the event’s organizers, Lorrie Johnston, Safety, Security and Community Relations representative from NBM Railways and Operation Lifesaver partner, to find out what it took to make it happen.
The New Brunswick committee has approximately 15 mock collisions under their belt to date, and each one requires roughly three to four months of annual preparation.
Q: Who were your partners in setting up the mock collision?
It’s a long list and we’re so grateful to all who participated. A special thank you to the following:
Q: How many hours went into planning this event?
- Anglophone School District – South
- Facilities Department
- Harbour View High School
- City of Saint John
- Saint John Police Department
- Traffic Unit,
- Forensic Identification Section,
- Public Safety Communications Center
- Saint John Fire Department
- NBM Railways
- Safety Services New Brunswick
- PALS (Partners Assisting Local Schools)
- Ambulance NB
- Public Safety NB
- NB Emergency Management
- NB Department of Transportation & Infrastructure
- Transport Canada
- CN Railway
- Castle Funeral Home
- Higgins General Insurance Ltd.
- Horizon NB
- Saint John Regional Hospital
- NB Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
- J.D. Irving Limited (JDI)
- JDI Communications
- Transportation Safety Board
- Loyalist City Towing
Countless hours went into planning this event. With so many participants, some being shift workers, it’s not unusual to have daytime, evening and weekend discussions.
Q: How many people were involved, behind the scenes and in front for the event itself, to make the mock collision a reality?
: We had approximately 30 volunteers on the front lines and 20 behind the scene.
Q: What did you find the most challenging when planning this event?
: Given the significant number of times we’ve done this in the past we have a fairly set agenda. We are very fortunate to have such great partners. We work very well together, any obstacles we were quick to resolve collaboratively.
Q: What was the feedback from your participants and partners?
We’ve always received such positive feedback. Even though it’s a mock event, the feeling on the ground is chilling. Most comment on just how real it feels. We’ve had students come back years later and discuss how much of an impact it had on them—the positive comments are great to hear, you know we’ve made a difference.
The feedback from partners is totally positive as it provides an opportunity for emergency services to test their ability to respond to such an incident while learning new ways to improve their response time.
I can’t help but note something that was passed on to me from a number of partners – they couldn’t believe the level of respect and collaboration shown at the school from the staff and students. HVHS left such a positive impression—hats off to the students, school and principal David Morgan.
Q: Why do you feel hosting an event like this is important?
Hosting an event like this is very important. All across the country we are busy educating people of all ages about the potential dangers at highway-railway crossings and the seriousness of trespassing on railway property. We reach the public with safety presentations to schools, industries, community groups, safety fairs etc.
The ability to reach 15-19 year olds is a difficult one. They do not want someone telling them what is dangerous - they perceive it as a form of lecturing. To overcome this challenge Operation Lifesaver reaches out to this audience in a unique but effective manner. Using a live theatre exercise involving schools, local leaders, railways, emergency responders and media. Our main goal of the exercise is to educate and enlighten new and young drivers of the hazards surrounding highway-railway crossings and trespassing on railway property. While this impact has been achieved on many students, it can also be said because of the attention it generates, the general public is also drawn into this educational lesson through the help of newspapers and news reports.
Q: Can we expect another mock collision next year?
And now a word from the mock collision partners:
"The selection of this crossing was excellent as an important learning activity for our newest and future drivers. The engagement of so many response agencies combined with the students, surrounding citizens, and the media, helped ensure its success. I congratulate everyone involved in its planning, and for the delivery of such an important Safety message, one that will follow the folks that participated all of their lives." —Donald Ross, Senior Investigator/ Rail/Pipeline. Transportation Safety Board of Canada
"The exercise provided emergency first responders an opportunity to test interoperability with the railway, and to identify the strengths and weaknesses within the planning, preparedness and response needs of both the railway and local emergency first responders." —Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford
“I have noticed on several occasions that some vehicles don’t allow for adequate distance at a train crossing. If we could prevent an accident like this from happening, we have made a difference and saved lives! ’Education is knowledge!’ Everything we can do to educate the public in regards to train safety, makes a difference in saving someone’s life.” —Robert Keays Director, Business Development, Higgins General Insurance Ltd.
“On behalf of the students and staff of Harbour View High School I would like to express our appreciation to be included in the mock train/car emergency exercise. It was certainly a learning experience for all who witnessed it. Our students are now more aware of the dangers that exist when crossing signals are ignored. The covering of the body of our SRC president, with the white sheet, really brought home the seriousness of the situation, we have had many discussions in class about it.” —David Morgan, Principal, Harbour View High School