Conductor Joe Chacon recently was added to the Illinois chapter of Operation Lifesaver’s board of directors.
He’s been with the organization for 14 years and is excited by the development, which will see him help coordinate responses to train crossing collision incidents.
“I feel like I can help change the culture and behaviors of people around railroad crossing more than I ever have before,” he said.
Chacon grew passionate about the issue of grade crossing safety after being involved in a train versus car collision as a conductor. He said it’s helped him deal with the event.
“When I go out and teach people, especially kids, hopefully it changes how they view railroad tracks,” Chacon said.
He’s witnessed their parents exhibit behaviors, such as maneuvering around lowered gates as motorists and hurrying their children past crossings when trains are approaching.
“Kids begin to think this is normal; they imitate what their parents do,” Chacon said. “So, with my presentations, I hope to change that.”
The pandemic slowed down Chacon’s ability to present to children, one of his most important audiences. After re-establishing contact with Belt-area elementary schools though, things are getting back to normal. He recently visited Harry E. Fry School in Burbank and addressed several classes of youngsters.
In 2019, before the pandemic, Chacon addressed 11,000 people. He stayed busy during the pandemic, speaking to truck and bus drivers, an important audience he will continue to address. He has presented to 45,000 people in his time with Operation Lifesaver.
“We’ve had a big influence,” Chacon said. “Students and teachers frequently remember years after I visited them, and that tells me my message stayed with them.”
A new area of focus for him is suicide prevention. He’s intrigued by efforts abroad, including using special lighting and mirrors on passenger railroad platforms in ways intended to persuade those intending to harm themselves to reconsider.
He is also running his Operation Lifesaver chapter’s Instagram account and is warning people, especially youngsters, not to take photos on railroad property.
With Chicago arguably the most important rail hub in the nation, heavy train volumes are the norm. It’s one reason Illinois is ranked fourth in the nation in grade crossing collisions with 124 in 2021; the incidents resulted in 21 deaths and 34 injuries. He said that one out of every 10 collisions occur in Illinois or Indiana. Chacon knows his mission isn’t over, and he appreciates the support he’s received.
“The Belt has been 100% supportive all these years,” Chacon said. “They know it’s important to me and almost therapeutic for me to get my message out.”
Despite the pandemic, Conductor Joe Chacon was able to tally a total audience of more than 3,000 people in 2021.
Anyone interested in becoming an Operation Lifesaver presenter can contact Director of Police and Safety Jerry Conoboy: 708-496-4076