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YouTube trend, recent deaths have officials stressing train safety

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Oct. 17, 2011 at 6:03 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY -- In less than 36 hours, three people were killed as a result of being struck by a train. And a fourth victim is recovering from serious injuries that nearly killed her. With the recent deaths, train officials have renewed their focus on train safety.

Before three teenage girls were struck by a train in Spanish Fork Canyon Saturday night, one of them apparently posted a Facebook message expressing her thrill at standing next to a speeding train. If the message is authentic and not a hoax, it exemplifies the lure and the danger of the tracks.

Even before the weekend's tragic events, experts were already reaching out to schools throughout the state to teach about the dangers of trains. Last week, a non-profit safety group sent out a harsh message to every high school in the state: Walk along railroad tracks and you could easily die.

And it seems young people are the ones who seem to need the warning the most. It may not be a fad, but it's a frightening undercurrent on YouTube, with videos of people standing by the tracks, taking pictures and taking big chances as they risk their life.

It is not just people looking for a thrill on YouTube; it is railroad enthusiasts and pedestrians of all ages getting in serious trouble, risking their lives. But the biggest problem is young people, according to Keeslar.

"Typically, it's our high school students -- our teenagers -- that feel invincible," Keeslar said. "And they're the ones that typically are sometimes exercising risky behavior."

To combat the life-threatening problem, Operation Lifesaver sent out posters to all 130 high schools in Utah. With their smartphones, students can scan the poster and watch a chilling video, with a depiction of a tragic train accident.

Keeslar hopes the safety video will teach teenagers some lessons that don't appear on YouTube, where taking chances with trains looks daring and exciting, but not necessarily deadly.

"Unfortunately, it's a growing problem," Keeslar said.

Director of Public Relations Dan Harbeke of Union Pacific Railroad echoed the concern Keeslar has stressed to teenagers and people of all ages alike: "Stay away from the tracks. Not only is it private property and it's trespassing, but it's dangerous. You can expect a train at any time."

Email: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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