New director gets busy start on NS grade crossing safety
Cayela Wimberly had barely settled into her job in May as Norfolk Southern’s grade crossing safety director when she boarded an Operation Lifesaver train to promote public awareness of railroad safety. With barely time to unpack, she followed up with three more of the weeklong whistle-stop trips.
By the time she completed the final leg six weeks later, Wimberly had traveled more than 1,500 miles, stopped in 38 cities in nine states, and talked to several hundred people, including local and state government officials, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, business and school leaders, and reporters.
For Wimberly, the outings provided a rapid immersion into her new responsibilities as leader of NS’ three-person grade crossing safety group. While the pace was hectic, Wimberly said she appreciated the opportunity to speak with guests about safety issues that train crews encounter daily. The trips, she said, are an important tool for informing the public about staying safe at highway-rail grade crossings and the dangers of trespassing on railroad property.
“The most rewarding part was when we brought somebody on board, and they’d say, ‘I had no idea that this was a problem,’ ” Wimberly said. “The best part after that was the follow up when they said, ‘Let’s do a project.’ ”
That proved to be the case in Whitfield County, Ga., where officials invested $100,000 to upgrade pavement markings that warn motorists they are approaching a rail crossing. Wimberly had talked with them about the importance of grade-crossing safety on NS’ Peach State whistle-stop train through Georgia. After their trip, the county repainted markings at 11 crossings where weather, traffic, and construction work had faded the old symbols.
“That pays for the trip itself,” Wimberly said.
A large responsibility
As part of NS’ Safety and Environmental Department, Wimberly, along with grade crossing safety managers Derrick Mason and William Miller, covers a lot of territory. Among other things, her group monitors approximately 30,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings across the railroad’s 22-state system, evaluating things such as warning devices, the number of vehicles using them, and the proximity of adjacent crossings.
A major focus is identifying potential safety issues and working with local and state officials to gain community support on solutions, including altering or closing crossings.
“The safest crossing is a closed crossing,” she said. “We want to reach as many people as possible to let them know the importance of grade-crossing safety, trespass abatement, and crossing closures.”
That’s where the whistle-stop trains come in. NS partners on the safety trains with Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit organization that works to prevent collisions, injuries, and fatalities on and around railroad tracks and highway-rail grade crossings. Bill Barringer, who retired earlier this year from the job Wimberly now holds, is chairman of Operation Lifesaver’s board of directors.
This year’s NS whistle-stop trips, operated during June and July, included the Peach State train; the Appalachian train from Cleveland, Tenn., to Lynchburg, Va.; the Keystone train from Harrington, Del., to Latrobe, Pa.; and the Great Midwest whistle-stop from Monroe, Mich., to Jacksonville, Ill. Altogether, more than 1,260 government, business, and community leaders rode on the trains.
Each day, guests boarded two NS-owned 1940s-era Pullman passenger cars powered by two locomotives in a consist that included NS’ Exhibit Car and an NS research car. A camera mounted on the front locomotive streamed live video on monitors in the passenger cars, allowing guests to see the tracks from the engineer’s perspective.