For most of us, hunting is something we are passionate about. It brings us together with our families and friends and is part of our tradition as Alaskans. However, every responsible hunter knows safety must always be the No. 1 priority. Along the Railbelt, that not only refers to firearm safety and backcountry awareness but also to track safety.
I grew up hunting with my own father, and ever since my sons were old enough to join me on moose hunts, I've continued that family tradition with them. Even now that my children are grown, we still head into the backcountry on moose hunts, and it is a time I cherish. We're as eager as anyone to have a season that includes plenty of birds or a moose for the freezer, but none of that is worth risking our lives. The best hunt is always one where everyone comes home safely.
At the Alaska Railroad, many hunting enthusiasts like me are aware of the prime hunting grounds around our tracks, but all Alaskans must be sure to follow the law when it comes to track safety and Alaska Railroad right of way. You may think using the tracks as a path to access your favorite hunting spot seems harmless, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, on average, 500 people in the United States die each year on the tracks. Even when the Alaska Railroad's summer service subsides, we run dozens of trains along the Railbelt every single day. Having people on the tracks not only endangers their lives, but it puts the safety of Alaska Railroad employees and passengers in jeopardy.
For those of us who enjoy moose hunting, which admittedly is my family's passion, an ATV is a necessity to reach the best spots, packing in gear and packing out meat. Unfortunately, the roar of an ATV engine makes it nearly impossible to hear oncoming trains, which are already much quieter than people realize. When trains are going through town loudly blaring their horns, you may think, "I will always be able to hear a train coming." However, when we are traveling along stretches of track where we don't expect to encounter other vehicular or foot traffic, trains can be surprisingly quiet and sneak up on you with little to no notice. Even if you do hear the train as it approaches, it is unlikely you will have a chance to move before the 7-ton piece of machinery has a chance to stop. Even in the best weather conditions traveling at speeds as low as 20 mph, these locomotives and the cars they pull can take more than a quarter-mile to come to a full stop.
My hope is for all my fellow outdoorsmen to have a great fall hunting season but, more importantly, a safe one.
Doug Engebretson is chief operating officer of the Alaska Railroad.
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