Canadian Pacific Railway receives complaints every winter of snowmobilers riding on the right of way, the railroad property on both sides of the track. Railroad police who handle these complaints want to warn snowmobilers who do this that they are putting themselves at risk of injury or even death.
A few years ago, a snowmobiler got his sled stuck on CPR tracks in Farmington while a train was approaching. The rider managed to free his sled with only seconds to spare. Imagine how helpless the train crew felt as they witnessed this near-tragedy, knowing that the law of physics wouldn't allow them to stop a train traveling 45 mph in time.
Elsewhere, snowmobile riders have been struck and killed crossing tracks because they couldn't hear the train whistle over the roar of their sled's engine. Or didn't see the train just around a bend or didn't look the other way down a parallel second track once a train passed by on the first track.
In Rosemount, CPR maintenance-of-way employees complain about their safety when snowmobile riders speed past them on railroad property. Snowmobilers along railroad tracks also risk striking objects buried under snow, such as long portions of rail and other track equipment or even material dumped by the public. ``I also see areas along our tracks where the snowmobile riders have to lift their sleds over the tracks because they box themselves in between tracks,'' CPR Investigator Bob Reardon said. ``I could go on and on about how some, not all, snowmobile riders are trespassing on railway property and are putting themselves at risk.''
Railroads generally own the land that extends about 50 feet on each side straight out from the center of the track. In some places, the right of way is wider or narrower than 100 feet, but it's generally 100 feet. The right of way is unsafe for snowmobiling or any other kind of traffic. What's more, as private property, it's illegal to trespass on it. ``But the railroad's biggest concern, as yours, is that no one gets injured or killed while snowmobiling,'' Reardon said.
Here are some statistics:
When a train crushes a snowmobile, it is equivalent to the force with which a car crushes a pop can.
A typical train weighs the same as 4,000 automobiles combined.
In 2001 in the United States, 423 people - including five in Minnesota -- were killed while trespassing on railroad right of way and property. An additional 345 trespassers were injured, including five in Minnesota.
Trains can take up to a mile and a half to stop. By the time a train crew sees a snowmobiler stuck on the track ahead, it may already be too late to stop.