Powell police officers are concerned about people who drive their vehicles onto railroad crossings while waiting for rush hour traffic to move forward.

Powell police officers are concerned about people who drive their vehicles onto railroad crossings while waiting for rush hour traffic to move forward.

"People think it's fine to drive onto the railroad tracks when traffic is backed up. And while we haven't had a (train to vehicle) crash here, the potential for that tragedy concerns us," said deputy chief Steve Hrytzik.

To educate drivers, Powell police officers partnered with Ohio Operation Lifesaver, the Delaware County Railroad Safety Task Force and CSX Railroad for a grade crossing safety blitz at the CSX railroad tracks on West Olentangy Street May 19.

Representatives from the organizations donned florescent safety vests and handed out literature on railroad crossing safety tips.

Even when railroad crossing lights aren't flashing and the gate isn't down, vehicles should never stop on the tracks, said Shel Senek, of Ohio Operation Lifesaver.

"We should always expect a train at any time on any track," Senek said. "When you tie with a train, you lose every time."

A typical train in Ohio consists of two locomotives and 100 freight cars, Senek said. Such a train needs about a mile to go from 55 mph to a complete stop.

"Anything in its path will get hit," he said.

"Stopping on the tracks, compounded with having cars ahead of and behind you that prevent you from moving your vehicle, is not only dangerous but also could result in a deadly scenario should a train approach. It is illegal to stop on the tracks," Powell police chief Gary Vest said in a press release.

"A vehicle-train collision could potentially cause a derailment, thus creating a catastrophic incident," Senek said in a press release. "Motorists should position themselves at the stop line, or if none is available, at least 15 feet from the nearest rail when stopped in traffic."

In the United States, a person or a vehicle has an incident with a train about every two hours, Senek said. Ohio ranks eighth in the nation for railroad crossing collisions and 11th in the nation for railroad crossing fatalities. During 2009, 55 percent of Ohio collisions with trains occurred at crossings where the gates were down and the lights were flashing.

As well as being hazardous, stopping on the tracks is illegal, Senek said.

"It's a fourth-degree misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $250 to 30 days in jail," Senek said.

Hryztik said the department does not cite people for stopping on the tracks, but the officers' concerns prompted them to invite the safety blitz program to Powell.

Operation Lifesaver began in Idaho in 1972 when concerned railroad employees began a community education campaign, Senek said. The organization went national and came to Ohio in 1978.

The proactive education program has been shown to reduce train-vehicle collisions as much as 40 percent, Senek said.

For more information, contact the national Operation Lifesaver office at (800) 537-6224 or log on to the Ohio Operation Lifesaver Web site at www.ohol.org. The organization offers free education programs for schools, groups and communities.