GREENCASTLE, Pa. (WHTM) – A rail camera in Franklin County caught a near miss between a speeding freight train and a family taking pictures along the tracks Sunday afternoon.
The camera, owned and operated by Virtual Railfan, sits above the Norfolk Southern tracks in Greencastle, and is one of six the company owns across Pennsylvania.
Brock Kerchner, the state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver of Pennsylvania, said the family is lucky to be alive.
“You wouldn’t stand in the middle of an airport runway with a plane bearing down on you to take a picture so why would you do it on a railroad track?” asked Kerchner, whose group focuses on railroad safety and education across the Commonwealth. “This is a place for the trains, you always expect a train any time, there’s no schedule.”
The video shows the family walking up and down the tracks in front of the camera for about ten minutes before a young girl turns to look over her shoulder, and spots the train barreling down the tracks.
She yells to warn the others, eight in total, who scattered in different directions as they too notice the train. A man can be seen at one point darting across several tracks to grab a small boy, then hurrying back across the tracks to a berm alongside a fence. Within seconds, the train is on them.
“When you’re in front of it, it’s extremely hard to hear that train and if the train’s around a corner, you’re never gonna see it in time,” said Kerchner. “You’re in front of an object that’s making sound, that’s moving toward you, you’re not gonna be able to hear it until it’s passed you. You’d be very surprised how quiet a train can be with a steel rail and the steel wheel. You’d think that ‘hey, there’s this large 1000-ton train coming at me, I’m gonna hear something, I’m gonna see something,’ you’re not. Thinking that you can feel it or you can hear it beforehand, you’re not gonna be able to.”
Kerchner said every three hours across the country, a person or vehicle is hit by a train. On average, he said, a 100-car freight train traveling 55mph takes more than 18 football fields to come to a stop — that’s more than a mile.
“They can blow the horn, they can ring the bell, they can put the brakes on and that’s all they can do in that case,” he said.
The Railfan camera that captured the incident is one of about 80 across the country the company offers for train and railroad enthusiasts.
“We’re kinda like the NFL package for those people,” said Virtual Railfan president and CEO, Mike Cyr. “We have cameras at hot spots all over the country, so you can literally tune in and everything is live.”
Cyr said when his cameras aren’t entertaining viewers, they often capture scary moments like the ones in this video that can ultimately be used as teaching moments.
“The fad of doing photography on the tracks stuff like that, can go south real quick, and that video — that proves it right there,” said Cyr. “Carrying that poor kid over the tracks, one wrong move and you don’t have any time to correct it again.”
Both Cyr and Kerchner remind the public that walking on any set of train tracks is illegal, and is considered trespassing.
Kerchner added that if you’re near tracks, don’t wear earphones or headphones which can block out any potential sounds from an approaching train.
“You’d be very surprised how quiet a train can be with a steel rail and the steel wheel,” Kerchner warned. “You always need to expect a train, a train can be coming in any direction at any time. Until the train’s on top of you, it’s too late.”