Safety educator Karen Franklin leads kids in a song as she conducts a safety class at Dora Lantrip Elementary in Houston’s East End.
“Metro rail has come to town and we are going to ride it …”
Starting next year these third graders will see something entirely new just a few blocks from their campus, a quiet, silverly train running down the middle of Harrisburg. But Franklin says it’s all sort of abstract to the kids right now.
“Which is why I make the point that Thomas the Tank Engine is not a real train. This is going to be a real train in your neighborhood.”
Franklin tells the kids about all the places they’ll be able to go on the train. They can go to the zoo, or the Children’s Museum, or they can travel to a Dynamo soccer game.
But having a quick new way to get around also means new safety rules. Students will see new signs and lights, and they’ll have to listen for new sounds.
“That is called the gong. Can you say gong?”
The class at Lantrip is part of Metro’s “Think Rail” program. It’s being offered to students in pre-K though high school, as Metro prepares to start running trains on three new lines next year.
Kids are warned to be alert. They’re told to take off their headphones and put down their cell phones. They should only cross the tracks at marked crossings, when no trains are around.
“Right, you’re not going to throw anything at the trains. You’re not going to put anything on the tracks. You’re not going to do anything that might cause an accident.”
Metro officials say they want to prevent the kinds of accidents that happened when the the first line opened in 2004, when people weren’t always aware of the quiet trains gliding down Main Street.
Metro Stakeholder Representative Luis Garcia says there’s particular concern as trains prepare to roll on Harrisburg.
“The East End Line has 19 schools surrounding the line, which is the most schools of any of the three lines that are being built right now.”
And considering there were over 60 car-train collisions in light rail’s first year of operation, Metro hopes children take those safely lessons home to their parents. Magdalena Strickland is Lantrip’s principal.
“Our children are so intelligent. They are quick to tell their parents, ‘Oh no mom, you can’t walk this way’ or ‘Oh no, mom, that’s the siren.'”
Metro will start doing test runs on the East End Line starting this fall.