EDITORIAL: Safety a shared responsibility

Individuals bear some responsibility for their own and others' safety around railway tracks.

The death of Anita Lewis, who died July 14 after being struck by a northbound train on White Rock’s waterfront, is a lamentable tragedy – and no amount of argument on what should be done about safety precautions can minimize that.

It’s obvious the majority of Peninsula residents place a high value on human life, and wish to do everything possible to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

For some, there can’t be too many safety measures in place to protect the public.

But so long as people live cheek-by-jowl with a railway – a matter not of whim, but historic fact for many B.C. communities – care must continue to be taken.

And White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, in his resistance to a Transport Canada call for more gates, bells, lights and whistles, is right to suggest that there is a limit to what can be done by a city to protect the public.

The circumstances of Lewis’ death (she was jogging, reportedly with earphones on) seem to point to a classic misjudgment – an assumption on the part of many pedestrians that the sheer size of a train makes it visible and easy to avoid.

The forgotten factor is that trains travel at a rate in which they can reach a crossing deceptively fast, and the difference between not knowing and suddenly becoming aware one is approaching can be a matter of a split second.

As has been proven time and again, due to the way in which sound travels, audible cues to the approach of a train – even whistles – can also be deceptive. Looking both ways before crossing the line – and avoiding risky behaviour – should be mandatory.

But, as Baldwin has pointed out, not even the most aggressive campaign to protect the public can remove all danger from the scenario.

It seems that, in addressing the problem, we must strike a balance between civic diligence and a reasonable expectation of individual caution.

And Baldwin had it about right when he said – at the time a safety review was announced in July – that crossing the tracks was analogous to setting foot into a busy intersection.

“You wouldn’t step off into a heavily-trafficked area without looking – that’s obviously asking for trouble,” he said.

To suggest – as Baldwin has done – that individuals, as well as civic government, bear some responsibility for their own and others’ safety is not an expression of callous indifference.

It’s a matter of common sense.