The students at Maplewood Elementary School in Puyallup are very familiar with the sound of a train passing through Puyallup.
“How many of you have been in downtown Puyallup when a train has come through?” Sound Transit Safety program manager Sarah Miller asked a room full of third- and fourth-grade students March 1.
Almost every hand went up.
But what the students might not know is what to do — and not to do — when riding the train.
Miller was there to help. Her presentation taught the Puyallup students about Sound Transit, what crossing guard signals mean and how to buy tickets for the Sounder.
“I hope that they take away how useful trains are and how great they are as a way to get around, but also that... they always need to be respectful of the power of trains and how dangerous they can be if the kids don’t follow the rules,” Miller said.
I hope that they take away how useful trains are and how great they are as a way to get around, but also that... they always need to be respectful of the power of trains and how dangerous they can be if the kids don’t follow the rules.
Sarah Miller, Sound Transit Safety program manager
In the past two years, two pedestrians were struck and killed by trains at a railroad crossing in Tacoma. Many times, fatalities at train crossings are due to pedestrians believing it’s safe to cross the tracks.
“(Students) are used to people creating a safe environment for them, and of course the operator’s going to do everything they can to operate safely,” Miller said. “But, almost always, we have fatal accidents because people break the rules, they broke the law, they went under a gate, they made a run for it, they crossed in the middle of a block where there wasn’t a legal crossing.”
For students, riding the train can be an exciting experience. Sound Transit provides free tickets to students who listen to Miller’s presentation, and teachers use them for field trips. Maplewood Elementary teacher Jill Hieb often takes her students on the train to field trips in Seattle.
“I had Sarah visit last year at the beginning of the school year and then my kids were able to take three field trips to Seattle because of her presentation,” she said. “Taking the Sounder is awesome because it’s free transpiration. Taking a school bus costs a lot of money.”
But learning how to navigate the world of public transportation is just as important. Last week, students learned to stay behind the yellow line when trains are coming into a station. When in a car with an adult, vehicles are supposed to come to a stop before the white line.
Students were also reminded to never cross railroad tracks when the red lights are flashing and the gates are down.
In Puyallup, it’s not just the Sounder passing through. Freight and Amtrak trains also pass through the city at much faster speeds.
“I talk about freight (trains) too because that’s the reality in this corridor as well,” Miller said.
Typically, it can take the Sound Transit Link light rail in Seattle about three football fields to come to a stop. The Sounder, which is larger, can take longer — about five football fields. Freight trains can take a mile to come to a stop.
It takes the Sound Transit Link light rail about three football fields to come to a stop. The Sounder, which is larger, can take longer — about five football fields. Freight trains can take a mile to come to a stop.
“If you’re in downtown Puyallup and you’re at a train crossing and the gate starts to come down, you need to wait for that gate to come down and you need to wait for that trains to go by,” Miller said. “You never make a run for it because that train is coming really fast and you might make it across those train tracks, but you might trip, that train might be closer than you think, and if it hits you …”
“It’s the end,” finished one student.
Miller hopes the students pass along what they’ve learned to other students — and also adults.
“I hope that the kids will be excited ... and they’ll be out with their parents and (say), ‘Oh, that’s that crossing,’ and ‘Did you know you have to stop on that white line?’ and maybe just tell some stories to their parents and their friends and family,” Miller said.