TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The deep, vibrating sound of a horn, the moving gates and flashing lights are unmistakable. A train is approaching a railroad crossing near the Great Overland Station and warning lights are telling people to stay back from the tracks.
Yet pedestrians and drivers frequently ignore the signals - often with deadly consequences.
Union Pacific locomotive engineer Ken Walters says he was operating an 18,000-ton loaded coal train when he had a near-collision experience not too long ago.
"As I was approaching a grade crossing right downtown by the old depot on Kansas Avenue, two young boys ran under the gates as I was approaching the crossing. I was probably within 200, 250 feet of the crossing," he said. "The next thing I know, three more kids three or four years older, were coming across. At that point in time there's nothing we can do."
Lucky for everyone involved, the kids turned around and lived.
"About every three hours in North America, a person is involved in a incident with a train. either on foot or motor vehicle," Jay Holman, Senior Special Agent for the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department, said.
Operation Lifesaver, a Union Pacific safety partner that seeks to educate the public, says last year 677 people were killed in train collisions nationwide - 17 in Kansas.
Dozens more were injured in Kansas at a crossing or while trespassing.
"They don't realize the great danger they can put themselves in simply by being on the property," Holman said.
From the time an engineer spots a dangerous situation, a train travelling at 55 miles per hour takes at least a mile to come to a stop. That's equivalent to the length of 18 football fields.
"By the time we see [the danger] it's too late," Walters said. "We either hit the vehicle or the pedestrian."
"We put the train on what they call an emergency application where we have no more control over the train, it just stops when it stops," he said.
Members of Operation Lifesaver say their message is pretty simple.
"Stay off, stay away, stay alive," Holman said.