WSU celebrates its 5th Rail Safety Week


McKenna Scherer

Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Special Officer Tracy Bergerson (left) and CPR Special Officer Michele Mair (right) at the Huff St. railroad crossing at 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2021 in celebration of Rail Safety Week 2021. Both Bergerson and Mair have worked with Rail Safety Week for years, Winona being one of their favorite stops, they said. It is Winona State University’s fifth year participating in the event.

McKenna Scherer, Editor-in-Chief

Winona State University participated in another Rail Safety Week this past week beginning on Sept. 20, marking its fifth annual Rail Safety Week.
Put on by Minnesota’s leg of the national non-profit organization Operation Lifesaver, the educat- ional organization is dedicated to ending collisions, deaths and injuries at rail crossings and on railroad property.
Sheryl Cummings, the executive director for Minnesota Operation Lifesaver, began her work with the organization eight years ago and said Winona State is one of her favorite stops during Rail Safety Week.
“We’re a statewide program and really have been very fortunate to have a good group of volunteers and a huge amount of support from [Winona],” Cummings said. “The Chief of Police has come out to share, the Fire Department Chief and [members of] City Council came out. It’s really wonderful to see this amount of support for the message we’re sharing.”
Cummings said the biggest lesson she hopes people take away from the Safety Week is to always be on the lookout for trains at railways and railroad property, even if they “look like they’re moving slow,” people get tired of waiting for them to pass or “whatever the case may be.”
“It’s never going to be a wait that you’re going to regret, especially if something bad were to happen,” Cummings said.
The city of Winona has spent the last few decades working on making the railroad crossings safer while the university has also made specific changes where the campus intersects with or is close to a crossing, like the Huff St. crossing.
In 1972, the Governor’s Safety Commission recommended closing half of Winona’s railroad crossings due to being “seriously concerned” about accidents on the crossings, as said by then-City Engineer, Robert J. Boliant, recorded by The Winonan.
There was a stretch of accidents and deaths in 1967, including a car being hit by a freight engine at the West Broadway crossing on May 3 with 63-year-old Muriel Blumentritt inside. She was in ‘satisfactory condition’ after medical care following the accident. The following Tuesday, four high school students were hit by another freight engine at the Harriet Street crossing. Thomas Luhmann (18) and Steven Kragness (18) were both killed in the accident, Luhmann being the car driver. The other two individuals were rushed to hospitals.
Just three days after the West Broadway accident, the third incident in four days occurred. Frank Pagel and his wife, both in their 70’s, were struck by an Amtrack train at the Milwaukee Road Lincoln Street crossing.
Boliant told The Winonan in May of 1976 the city had been working on solutions to making its railroad crossings safer since 1970, according to Winonan archives.

WPD Community Liaison Officer T.J. Heiden (left), Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude (second-to-left), Canadian Pacific Railway Special Officer Michele Mair, Authorized Volunteer Jeanine Black (center holding sign), Provost Darrell Newton (center in suit), CPR Special Officer Tracy Bergerson, Sheryl Cummings (right holding sign), as well as two assisting police officers. At 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2021, Provost Newton and Sheriff Ron Ganrude met with the Rail Safety team to show support for their mission and Winona State University’s fifth year participating. (McKenna Scherer)

Despite various construction projects and safety implementations made by the university and the city, including pedestrian underpass tunnels made on Winona State’s campus for people to safely cross the railway, railroad crossings and the tracks themselves continue to be a hazard if proper precautions are not taken.
In more recent years, for example, from mid-August to October in 2016 there were three train-pedestrian fatalities in the Winona area.
Then, in January of 2016, Winona State fourth-year student Derek Bute, 25, was hit by an oncoming train on Mark and Belleview streets.
Incidents involving trains in Winona have ranged from car-train accidents, cyclist-train accidents, individuals under the influence, not paying attention, or dealing with suicidal thoughts and various other factors.

On Sept. 22, 2021, Rail Safety Week was celebrated in a day full of meet-and-greet-style events at various Winona train crossings and at Lake Park, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m. Pictured is Rail Safety’s “mascot”, a See Tracks? Think Train (STTT) sign at Lake Park in the afternoon. (McKenna Scherer)

Jeanine Black, a Winona-based volunteer for Operation Lifesaver, said it is important for students to be aware of this topic yearly since there are new students coming to the city through its various colleges every semester and year.
Black shared many facts regarding railways and railway safety, including how it can take a train more than a mile to stop, which is the length of 18 football fields; about every three hours in the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train; the railroad tracks and yards in Winona are private property, so anyone on main or adjacent tracks and not at a designated crossing, is trespassing.
Cummings, Black and several police officers set up a table near the “Every Child’s Dream” all-inclusive playground behind the bandshell in Lake Park from 1-3 p.m. on Sept. 22. There, the Rail Safety team spoke with community members at the playground and park, also giving out free temporary tattoos, wristbands, keychains and more with Rail Safety logos.
Earlier in the day on Sept. 22, various community members also met with the team in support of Rail Safety Week at several rail- way crossings, including Mayor Scott Sherman, Winona Police Department’s Deputy of Police, Eric Engrav, Winona Fire Department Chief, Curt Bittle, as well as Winona State’s Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Darrell Newton.
Newton, as well as Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude, were at the Huff St. railroad crossing to meet with the Rail Safety team and show support for the week around noon.
Newton and Ganrude shook hands with each other as well as the other police officers at the crossing area, speaking with Cummings and Black about rail safety.
Although new to the Winona State community as of the summer of 2020, Newton expressed his support for rail safety and the seriousness of it and took photos with the Rail Safety team.
Cummings spoke on how in previous years, Rail Safety Week and Minnesota Operation Lifesaver has had members set up tables in the Lower Hyphen of Kryzsko Commons or on the lawn near Kryzsko Commons but recognized the university’s COVID-19 safety precautions.
“We really missed being able to be on campus, but obviously with COVID we just felt like it wasn’t the best to be putting students in that position,” Cummings said. “We’re really had to kind of scale back the last couple of years but we’re happy to be here, I’m really excited and it’s the best day to be outside.”
Cummings also said while the topic of rail safety is serious, she and the Rail Safety team try to make the week and its events fun while unveiling new rail-crossing signs and sharing information.
“This is a favorite; Winona State support has been fantastic,” Cummings said. “Always has been and we hope it always will be.”