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Train aficionado focuses on railroad safety - Your Houston News: News

Train aficionado focuses on railroad safety

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Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012 9:27 pm

A Conroe-area man who loves trains is using his lifelong enthusiasm to help teach new drivers the importance of railroad safety.

While Bob Smith, who lives in the River Plantation subdivision south of Conroe, has never been officially employed by the railroad industry, he is one of the area’s biggest advocates of railway safety – using his background and experience to help teach drivers the importance of paying attention to railroad crossing gates, lights and bells.

“It takes a train traveling 55 mph a full mile to come to a stop,” Smith said. “It’s important for drivers, young and old alike, to realize stopping on the tracks of a railroad crossing is a very bad idea. The engineer might see you, but that doesn’t mean he can stop the train in time.”

Smith, 63, grew up near a railroad track in Ohio and was always fascinated by trains – especially the old steam locomotives that he remembers from his youth.

Following a lengthy career with Kmart, Smith indulged his passion for all things railroad related by becoming the assistant manager of the now defunct Great Train Store in The Woodlands Mall.

“A lot of railroad employees would come into the store,” Smith said. “I got to know them and we’d spend a lot of time talking about the history of trains.”

An avid photographer, Smith estimates he has more than 10,000 photographs of trains and railroad-related vistas. In August of 1999, he happened upon a Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe train stopped on the tracks.

“I got a chance to have a long talk with the engineer and see the train close up,” he said. “I was in awe.”

A few years later, Smith received a special Christmas present – the opportunity to ride in the engine on a railroad run. He was thrilled.

“It’s not often that a civilian is given such an opportunity,” he said. “It was a great experience.”

In 2004, Smith snapped a photo of a CSXT derailment in Urbana, Texas, where a bridge mooring in the Trinity River failed. The photo has more than 136,000 views on www.railpictures.net and is the second most popular image on the website.

Among the viewers impressed with the shot were the producers of the CBS television show “Numbers.” The shot was used as a plot point and graphic in the fourth episode of the first season of the show.

“It was very flattering that they used one of my photos,” Smith said. “Of course it would be nice if they had asked permission or responded when I tried to contact them about it.”

While he still enjoys researching and traveling in support of his interest in trains, Smith is channeling much of that interest into lecturing adult and student drivers about the importance of railroad safety.

“Forty percent of railroad accidents come from people trying to drive around a lowered railroad gate or trying to beat a train,” he said. “It’s especially important that young drivers learn to respect these safety measures.”

For more information on Operation Lifesaver, visit www.oli.org. To visit Smith’s personal website devoted to the railroad industry, go to www.texastrainzone.com.

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