Royal West students walk to school with a train the background, at the Montreal West station in Montreal Sept. 13, 2017. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
The day before a 17-year-old girl was severely injured after being struck by a train in Roxboro, officials at Royal West Academy spent time during an assembly discussing train safety. Hundreds of students use the busy Montreal West train station, which is adjacent to a dangerous intersection, and administrators often remind them not to dash for a train if the barrier is down.
“They told us to not cross when the lights are flashing, have one headphone out and to make eye contact with drivers when we cross,” a Grade 10 student told the Montreal Gazette on Wednesday.
Although he knows it can be dangerous to run for a train when the lights are flashing, the student said he has dashed for a train on occasion to avoid missing the last train or getting home late. “I always look both ways before doing it,” he said.
The student said his friend was almost hit by a train last February because he crossed the tracks while wearing soundproof headphones and didn’t hear the train coming into the Montreal West station.
When classes began this year, administrators and teachers were posted at the busy intersection, wearing orange vests, to make sure students know the safest path to school from the train station.
Another Royal West student, who takes the train from the West Island, said school administrators and train operators do a good job teaching students about school safety. However, he said he has also, on occasion, run for a train when the lights are flashing. “If the train is in the distance and I look both ways, I have crossed,” he said. The student said he has consulted pamphlets distributed by commuter train operators about train safety and uses common sense when using the train.
The student said he was surprised to learn that a 17-year-old girl was hit by a train at the Roxboro station on Monday night. Police said the victim was running to catch a downtown-bound train and did not see a train heading westward. She was dragged for about 50 feet after falling between the train and the platform.
At the request of Royal West Academy, Montreal police have officers posted each morning at the busy intersection of Sherbrooke St. W. and Westminster Ave. to monitor traffic and make sure students are safe when getting off the train and crossing the complex junction, where there are three rail lines. About 450 of the school’s 900 students take the train.
“When they get off the train they use a path away from the busy intersection and the train tracks, said Constable Marie-Christine Nobert, a social community officer who has worked in the neighbourhood for 20 years. Norbert praised Royal West staff for doing an excellent job of educating their students to cross the tracks safely. She said she occasionally sees students crossing illegally, but not very often.
She said the best advice she can give to students and other pedestrians across Montreal is to remove their earbuds or headphones when approaching a rail crossing so they can hear properly.
A few years ago, a police officer saved the life of a woman who was getting ready to cross the tracks when a train was coming into the Montreal West station. “She was wearing earbuds and was completely distracted,” Nobert recalled. “She came to the station later with a thank you card and said: ‘You saved my life. I could have died’.”
Royal West principal Tony Pita said school officials met with the police, officials from the Montreal West and commuter train staff several years ago to determine the safest route to and from the train station. School staff regularly educate students about train safety, including showing them a PowerPoint presentation outlining the safest routes and reminding them to be aware of their surroundings.
“We give them tips about the train and about crossing the street which can be equally as dangerous in this area since the Turcot project started,” Pita said.
If police, school staff or commuter train employees see a student rushing for a train when the lights are flashing, school staff may meet with the student and the parents so they understand the implications of the behaviour, he said.
Nobert and Pita said students and other pedestrians need to take note of the following tips to stay save around train tracks.
• Remove earbuds and headphones when crossing rail crossings and busy intersections.
• Make sure you are aware of your surroundings and don’t be distracted by music or a cellphone.
• When the bell rings, don’t cross the tracks, because a train in approaching.
• Don’t run for a train when the barrier is down and the lights are flashing; wait for the next train.
Norbert said running for the train when the barrier is down is not worth the risk. “It’s better to be late and alive than cross and have something bad happen,” she said.
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