Educating Canadians about the hazards surrounding railway property and trains is a team effort—and Operation Lifesaver volunteers are a key part of that team. We rely on dedicated volunteers across the country to help us spread the rail safety message by taking part in presentations to schools, youth clubs, driver associations, snowmobile and ATV clubs, and other community groups—volunteers like Natalie Maier.
Natalie is one of Operation Lifesaver’s newest volunteers. The London, Ontario resident has been a driving instructor for 24 years and has driven school buses for almost 30 years. She makes rail safety a key part of her lessons when training new drivers because over the years, she has seen plenty of unsafe behaviours around railway tracks and trains—and has experienced the tragic consequences firsthand.
Natalie Maier shared some of her thoughts about the importance of rail safety education and her motivation for joining the Operation Lifesaver team.
Why is it important to you to promote rail safety?
Because it has affected me personally. There was my godfather, who didn’t see the train coming—and needless to say it was a closed casket. Then there was an 18-year-old neighbour of mine who didn’t see the train coming around the curb. That was another closed casket. And then there are all these people I keep training—I don’t know how many thousands of people I’ve trained—they just fly over the tracks. No one looks.
Why do you think people don’t seem to understand the risks around railway crossings and tracks?
I think number one, they rely too much on the flashing red lights. And if the red lights are not flashing, they just don’t care to look. And number two, I don’t think they really understand how long it takes a train to stop.
What sort of risky behaviour have you seen around railway tracks?
It’s just lack of scanning the tracks or even looking for a train. In London, Ontario, there is one rail system where they go forward and backward to hook up and unhitch on multiple tracks. People are always assuming that it is okay to cross when the train is gone, but it’s that second train that gets them. When I am training new drivers, I try to relate it to Thomas the Tank Engine, with Percy and Thomas and Henry. When one train goes by, there may be another one coming.
What do you hope to achieve by becoming an Operation Lifesaver volunteer?
I want to bring attention to how dangerous it can be when vehicles cross the tracks unsafely, or when people walk or play on the tracks. As a kid growing up, we had tracks beside us and I used to be one of those kids who played on them. I didn’t understand what could happen. I used to be one of those kids who would put a penny on the rail to see what might happen. Little did I know, as I was running down that hill, that the penny could have flown right back at me faster than I could blink—it could have literally killed me.
From little kids, right up to seniors, everyone needs to know about rail safety. They have got to be educated. And if we have to get people to watch Operation Lifesaver’s videos to get them to really understand it, then those videos need to be shown to everyone. The facts need to get out.