Leduc campaign first step in preventing more track tragedies, says grieving grandmother

On a grey February afternoon, Daniel McPherson scaled a fence to walk home along the train tracks from Leduc Composite High School.

He never made it.

With all noise muffled by music in his headphones, he never heard the low whistle of the oncoming train.

Struck from behind by a southbound Canadian Pacific freight train, the 19-year-old was killed instantly.

More than five years after Daniel died, on Feb. 13, 2012, his grandmother will attend Wednesday evening's launch of the Leduc's new Railway Sign Awareness Program.

"I think we're still coping and trying to understand," said Dianne Maneschyn.

There's a fence beside the train tracks, she said. Her grandson often went down a few houses, climbed over a 'no trespassing' sign and walked on the tracks, then went down the lane to school

The new campaign is intended to raise awareness and increase safety around railway crossings throughout Leduc, using billboards created by local high school students.

The new designs will be unveiled at a public ceremony Wednesday evening at the Leduc Civic Centre Atriumin before they're installed at railway crossings.

Maneschyn thinks better public education is the first step toward improving safety.

"These signs that are going up — especially because it's the kids that are doing the signs — are going to be good," Maneschyn said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"They're going to educate kids their own age that this is dangerous ... you have to stay off." 

Two different railway lines pass through the area, and from nine to 14 trains run through the city each day.

Despite the inherent dangers and the death of her grandson, teenagers continue to cross the tracks, which act as a sort of dividing line between parts of the community, said Maneschyn.

Even the installation of a second fence near the tracks hasn't kept them out.

'They just aren't understanding the dangers of it'

"We have this community, and on the other side of the fence there is the high school, the skate park and the 7-Eleven," she said. "It's all the things that the kids want to go to, so they go across the tracks.

"I've seen kids. They can flip over those two fences within a matter of seconds, so I don't think enough is being done," said Maneschyn. "They just aren't understanding the dangers of it."

Maneschyn's concerns about safety were realized last summer when another local teenager was killed walking along the tracks. The body of a 17-year-old boy was discovered near Highway 2A and 50th Street on July 31, 2016.

The city has taken a number of steps since McPherson's death to raise awareness and increase safety surrounding railway crossings throughout the city, including increased enforcement, fencing and committing $460,000 on intersection improvements, said Mayor Greg Krischke.

But this is the first time the city has involved the younger generation in public awareness efforts, he said.

After the latest tragedy, they hope older students from Leduc Composite High will help spread the message.

"We've done some other things … but by involving grade 10 students, it really gave them a chance to think about the seriousness of interactions with trains and people," said Krischke.

"So 55 artworks were created, and from those we picked four and reproduced them on signs that will be installed at railway crossings across the city."

Maneschyn hopes the new campaign will help raise awareness about the dangers of the tracks, and put pressure on government officials to protect pedestrians.

"This is preventable through education, through safety installments," she said. "I understand the trains are here to stay but we have to find a way to work together to be as safe as we can."