Deadly accident waiting to happen: Rail company says more children are playing on the tracks

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (Valley News Live) - "I've been here for going on 16 years now," says Troy Dodds, the Assistant General Manager at Otter Tail Valley Railroad.

During that time, there have been no deadly train versus pedestrian accidents on Dodds' watch in Fergus Falls - but the summer months are threatening his perfect record.

"Seems to be a rash of indents over the last ten days – I think we have had four trespassing incidents. And that's way too many," Dodds says. "The law of averages say that something's going to happen."

"We definitely see a spike in summer months. The foot traffic increases because people are able to be out and about," adds Holli Schafer, with Operation Lifesaver Minnesota.

Otter Tail Valley Railroad staff say kids are playing under the trains while they're stopped and trying to run through the trains while they're moving.

"There's some risk takers out there, you know – 'This looks like fun to do, let's see if we can get through it,'" says Dodds. "The kids don't understand what they're dealing with here. I think they think, 'Well, this train is stopped. It isn't going to move' - until it starts to move. If they're any place in between the equipment – it's so easy to fall in-between."

Nationally, nearly 600 people died after trespassing on railroad tracks last year. From 2010 to now, 41 Minnesotans have died while trespassing on railroad tracks. In North Dakota, that number drops to 14.

Now, community leaders are finding new ways to warn local kids about the danger before it's too late.

"To get into the schools is more difficult than it used to be," Schafer says. "Inviting us in to do presentations has decreased. To combat that, we've tried to increase our presence at bigger events and such."

"When I leave, I don't want that remembrance. I don't want that memory of somebody getting hurt or injured or killed. I just don't want that," says Dodds.

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