Operation greeting card


You know, "common horse sense" really isn't that common! People do things all the time which, upon investigation, seem to absolutely defy reason.

Understandably, these things can even become a bit personal simply because of what they involve.

For example, during this past year alone, my family and I received three greeting cards in the mail (two for Christmas and one graduation announcement last May) which were adorned with images of young people posed on railroad tracks.

What parts of "dangerous" and "illegal" do these parents not understand?!

The holiday wishes involved toddlers who (obviously) had no choice in the matter. When looking at those sweet, innocent babes, I couldn't help but hear the anguished cries of an inconsolable mother who'd just lost her pride-and-joy.

The graduation card portrayed a lovely young lady - high academic achiever, sports hero, scholarship recipient - doing her best country and western singing star impersonation. She DID have a choice, so one might safely presume she was equally culpable. I looked into her eyes and saw a father standing over his daughter's mangled body.

Then I began thinking of rails I've known: Conductors who were haunted for the rest of their lives; Engineers who were never able to get back in the cab - even though what occurred was not their fault.

And I wanted to cry.

We're talkin' some pretty heavy-duty emotional reactions here, considering the cards were intended to bring joy!

I've always admired Operation Lifesaver and those who spread its vital messages. Several years have passed since I've been able to actively volunteer, but my support has never wavered.

Of course, I usually equate O.L.I. with grade crossing safety. Still, its work educating pedestrians is both essential and effective. The general public often fails to realise that railroad rights-of-way are private property, that trains aren't able to stop quickly (and can't swerve to miss them!), and that even railway professionals live by some definite rules (including Roadway Worker Protection) in order to insure their own safety and the safety of those around them. Importantly, one of the most basic regulations (if I might paraphrase) is to never step upon or walk along a live track unless you have a valid reason for being there!

Taking a picture of your child is not a valid reason.

To be honest, I also wonder who these folks might blame if the unthinkable happened. Surely, they wouldn't blame themselves, since they're so smart, agile and aware. No...it's the railroad company with the deep pockets who failed to put up (or maintain) adequate fencing or warning devices or signage. Shoot, it's the railroad's fault for running all those bad ol' trains to begin with!

Years ago, my sister was covering a seasonal position in a local department store. She saw a man enter the building, transporting his child in an infant carrier. While waiting to be served, he placed the child (still strapped in its seat) on top of a glass display case. Karen immediately asked him to please remove the child from the display. The man's response, although completely inappropriate (and unprintable), essentially informed her there were no signs saying he was not allowed to do so! In an attempt to reason with him (in front of several customers), my sister calmly outlined what she presumed to be the obvious safety and design issues, culminating with the question, "what would you do if the glass broke beneath your child?"

His answer was as predictable as it was classic: "Why, I'd sue this store for everything it's got!"

With such people, sarcasm rarely works. That hasn't kept me from trying, though. A few years back, I asked a distant cousin who had pulled the ol' baby-on-a-track routine if she needed any help developing ideas for the next year. My suggestions included posing Junior in the middle of a ski slope, hanging the kid off a hotel balcony (ala Michael Jackson), and strapping him to her S.U.V.'s luggage rack and driving down the highway to get an authentic "wind in his hair" look.

She didn't think I was being very funny.

She also didn't think involving the railroad in her shenanigans was any big deal. She was only upset at me for casting aspersions upon her motherly instincts.

Besides, "everybody else" does it!

[And there must be a lot of 'em, too...since I've recently found several professional photographers who not only specialise in the Perils of Pauline (sans rope), but go out of the way to justify their actions, taking umbrage at what they consider moralising by those who get the danger and understand the illegality.]

Maybe this is all just a long-lived fad. Then again, maybe Operation Lifesaver needs to establish a special "greeting card" division! Either way, along with education, engineering and enforcement, we need to continue emphasising a healthy respect for the law and for other's property, a mature responsibility for our own safety and the safety of those in our care, and a clear realisation of the horrific things that might happen when we choose to ignore points one and two.

  • Once again, Garl, you cause me to reply in a less than charitable fashion.  While I agree with everything you say about the safety - or lack thereof - of taking greeting card pictures on railroad tracks, or doing anything that more intelligent people would not do around railroads and their property, I do think your latest missive is misguided.  You are, to use an old phrase, preaching to the choir.  Real rail fans know the rules, starting with the fact that one is trespassing when on railroad property without permission.  Those few who would ignore all common sense rules deserve to be called "foamers" - and derisively at that.

    But, my friend, what did you do when you received the offending cards?  Did you politely point out to the sender the social, legal, and common sense folly involved?  If not, perhaps you missed a teachable moment.  If not, you simply unloaded your angst on the PR blogsite and those who think nothing of posing little Murgatroyde on the tracks still don't know they shouldn't and probably will do so again.  There is no excuse for a "I'll overlook it this time" approach. I once worked for a fine CEO who was known as a 'bear' on safety.  Railroading is not inherently unsafe, he used to say.  It is unforgiving, and we enforce safety rules so our employees can go home at the end of their shifts.  Safety is everyone's job.  Norfolk Southern includes a safety component in the incentive compensation calculation of all officers.  Those who would use railroad facilities as props for their pictures or other pleasures should be admonished at every opportunity.  OLI has limited resources (who doesn't?) and must set priorities for the use of its limited funds.  Looked at from that perspective, trespassing for the purpose of obtaining pictures for greeting cards just is not as egregious as trying to outrun a train to a grade crossing or texting while driving.

  • Garl, your opening line says it all. I have lunch every two weeks or so with a group of retired university professors, last lunch an 85 year old economist among them said, "you know, I am just now realizing why I never could understand why so many things that people do were not understandable or logical or reasonable: they were emotional acts."  Logical things like train stopping distance, etc will not impact on the crossing runner, scaring the sh** out of them with some graphic ads might.  Wishing you and Larry and readers a safe and healthy New Year.

  • Larry,

    Suffice to say that every one of the greeting card producers/senders were individually contacted and, I trust, kindly informed of their various errors in judgement. They were also encouraged to continue expressing their interest in railroading - just in alternate ways!

    One suggestion was to visit a friendly neighbourhood railroad museum for their photographic pursuits, where the controlled environment and knowledgeable staff can make for a enjoyable (and safe) family outing.

    As a Daddy, I'm a firm believer in the power of the "teachable moment"!

    Please don't ever worry about your replies. We're fine. I can handle (and always appreciate) straightforward, constructive criticism...and your choice of words is never anything less than charitable.



  • I appreciate your reply, Garl.  I'm also pleased to know that we are "OK."

  • Those people lacking "common horse sense" probably gave up searching for a passenger rail station and decided to find some rusty high iron for that 'special effects photograph'

    If the 75,500+ or so US railway stations, terminals & depots that were vaporized under 'the gift of ashphalt' were still in existence a much nicer photo with a hometown Station Master and staff would have been reel nicey...  

  • Actually, Railwayist, if those railway stations, terminals, and depots were still in existence the "much nicer" photo you imagine would be pretty ugly - because the entire railroad industry would be bankrupt and no longer in operations.  Think that one through while you are having your flights of fantasy.