Monday, September 24, 2018

You never think it’ll happen

By Zach Phillips
Zach Phillips
You never think it’ll happen… until it does. Hi, my name is Zach Phillips and I am a law enforcement officer. I want to share with you a terrifying experience I had involving a person and a train. This particular individual was somehow on the train and while it was moving, they lost their balance and fell between the train cars. 
The fall could have been deadly in itself.  But instead, the train severed their arm just below the shoulder. Luckily for this person, another person on a train that just happened to be passing by noticed the severely injured individual on the train tracks and called for help. Because of that quick response, they were able to rush this person to the hospital where medical staff saved their life, but sadly not their arm. 
After being first on scene, the incident shed a new light on how dangerous trains can be to the human body. Usually trains are just something in the background and often go unnoticed. This incident inspired me to want to help spread the word about train safety.  That’s when I came across Operation Lifesaver, which I have currently been part of for a year now. I want to help raise awareness and hopefully prevent further incidents from happening by spreading the word regarding train safety and hazards of being around trains. People need to realize how quickly a situation can turn deadly!  In fact, once every three hours in the United States someone is hit or killed by a train.
Now after witnessing this incident and having been trained by Operation Lifesaver, I personally take more time at railroad crossings to make sure there is not a train approaching and not just be dependent on the crossing arms to tell me it’s safe. I have witnessed when train crossings have malfunctioned and do not activate when a train was approaching. Or after the crossing arms go up, the lights and crossing arms will activate and go back down immediately with no other train approaching.  I try to remind people of the Blue Emergency Notification System signs located at each train crossing. These important signs have a unique crossing id number that expedite reporting malfunctions or emergency incidents.
I share my past experience with others hoping this will make other people aware of the hazards of trains and trespassing on railroad property. I will continue to spread the word on train safety every chance I get in hopes that I just might save a life.
In Kansas, during 2017, while incidents at grade crossings were down over 2016 numbers, the trespasser incidents were more than doubled according to Federal Railroad Administration. To read more about the most recent statistics in Kansas, you can visit: 2017 State Statistics.
About Operation Lifesaver
Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and preventing trespassing on or near railroad tracks. A national network of trained volunteers gives free presentations on rail safety and a public awareness campaign, “#StopTrackTragedies” tips and statistics to encourage safe behavior near the tracks. Learn more at, Facebook, Twitter, or at
National Rail Safety Week is Sept. 23-29 and Kansas will be participating. For more information about events across the nation, visit: National Rail Safety Week Information.
Zach Phillips is a Kansas law enforcement officer and volunteer for Kansas Operation Lifesaver


  1. Thanks for sharing your passion regarding rail safety, Zach, and for volunteering with OLI. In addition to the tragic results of train vs. vehicle or pedestrians, I think of the emotional toll taken on railroad personnel who have no way to slow a train in time to avoid such a horrible incident.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story Zach. One other point you touched on also bears repeating. Many railroad bridges offer unique or interesting backdrops. While they may seem appealing, you should never walk, fish or take pictures from these bridges. They are private property and will not give you a quick exit in the event a train is on the tracks.

  3. A good reminder that safety around trains and the tracks is important, just like safety on the roadways.