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Little blue signs may save lives near railroad crossings

There are still many unanswered questions after an Amtrak train killed prominent St. Louis Attorney Melanie Adams-Swearengen on Wednesday in Macoupin County. But for now, an Illinois Railroad Safety Specialist Chip Pew wants to remind you of a sign on railroad crossings that could save your life if you get stuck.

As you approach most railroad tracks, you’ll see common things like an X labeled Railroad crossing, red flashing lights and a red and white crossing arm. But what you may not notice is a white and blue sign hanging as well. It may be small, but Pew said it could save your life in a moment’s notice.

“Without question and in fact they’ve probably been saving lives around,” he said.

The blue sign gives drivers who are stuck on the tracks a 1-800 number to call, along with a Department of Transportation number.

Instead of calling 911 and having to wait for them to contact a conductor to stop an oncoming train, the 1-800 number gets you in direct contact with a railroad operator where you are stuck.

“They dial the number, they give that railroad employee the crossing’s unique address, once again six numbers followed by a letter,” he said. “That rail road employee then types in that number, who then contacts any trains that could be in close proximity to that crossing.”

Though the sign is designed to save lives, not a lot of people I spoke with recognized it.

“Did you know about the blue tag?”

“No, Not at all,” resident Ricky Coats said.

Coats has been living next to a railroad crossing in Belleville for more than 40 years. Coats said he doesn’t recall ever seeing the sign or knowing its purpose.

“I just never knew! You don’t pay attention to that! You might slow down and observe, but I’m not looking for a sign really and even if I was stalled out I may not have known to look for one!”

But now that he knows, Coats says he’s going to spread the word because it may help save someone’s life in the future.

“At the very least knowing about it, it might save somebody’s life,” Coats said.

“Every crossing will have this blue sign whether you are driving in Illinois, Vermont, Maine, Iowa so that people get familiar with seeing the same sign no matter where they are,” Pew said.

On September 1, Pew said these signs will be mandatory to be at every railroad crossing across the U.S.