A train headed through Belgrade came to a sudden stop Monday morning after a nerve-wracking moment caused the conductor to hit the brakes.
They thought they saw a man and they thought they hit him.
It was still dark when Belgrade Police, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and the Central Valley Fire Department rushed to where the tracks cross Jackrabbit Lane.
According to Montana Rail Link, the conductor had seen a man walking on the tracks, blew his whistle, then couldn’t see him anymore.
“Depending on the speed, it’s anywhere from about a half a mile to a mile for the train to get fully stopped,” says Bruce Hennequin, fire marshal for the Central Valley Fire District.
When it comes to trains, they can’t stop on a dime — even if someone walks in front of one.
“According to the engineers, they were proceeding down the tracks as normal,” Hennequin says. “They observed what they believed to be an individual in dark clothing walking on the tracks. They hit the brakes.”
Hennequin says the next call went to them.
“Our crews helped check the train as well as walk the tracks further back and nobody located an individual either on the tracks or on the side of the tracks,” Hennequin says.
Crews combed from Thorpe Road to Jackrabbit Lane.
After more than an hour, there was no sign of any person ever being there.
“Once they finished, they got back in touch with the engineers and said we don’t see a reason why you can’t move forward but usually the railroad will send one of their supervisors out and they’ll just make sure,” Hennequin says.
“Not only is being on railroad property very dangerous,” says Ross Lane, chief communications officer for Montana Rail Link. “It is also illegal. You are trespassing on private property. You can be cited.”
Lane adds even a loud train can sneak up on you.
“Believe it or not, with modern trains, it can actually be pretty hard to hear a train coming in your direction if you are not at a crossing,” Lane says.
It’s a reminder: stay clear of the railroad.
“Every time they see railroad tracks, just think a train can be coming at any time, at any direction at a variety of speeds,” Lane says.
“Oh, it easily could have been a fatality and it’s just a very good idea to stay off of the tracks,” Hennequin says.
Lane also says programs like Operation Lifesaver, Inc. are useful things to know about, with information that helps stop tragedies at tracks across the country.