NINJA ATTACK... ...or an adventure in railroad safety



It was Friday, the weather was beautiful, I had just gotten paid, it was my lunch break and I was on my way to the bank. 

I’d decided to walk in order to enjoy the warm weather. I took a shortcut across the tracks and was headed down East Vienna when a white SUV with government plates appeared from nowhere, pulled in front of me and came to a halt in front of Coffman’s Martial Arts Academy.

What’s this? Trouble at the dojo? 

I went into reporter mode and stopped to see what was happening, hoping to see an epic showdown like something out of an ‘80s martial arts movie. 

“NINJA ATTACK! Local taekwondo instructor fights off crew of masked assassins…federal agents arrive on the scene to assist…brave, handsome local newsman is there for a first-hand account.“

I’ve always wanted to write an article with “Ninjas” in the headline. Maybe someday…

No, as it turned out the uniformed officer that emerged from the SUV was there for me. 

He introduced himself as Special Agent Crawford (not his real name) of some railroad law enforcement organization that I was too bewildered at the time to remember. He informed me that when I cut across the railroad tracks, it was not only dangerous, but also trespassing. He then handed me a pamphlet on rail safety and went through some of the more pertinent bullet points listed. 

I was just getting over the shock of discovering that railroad police officers were a thing, and was gearing up to defend my actions as harmless, when my argument was shut down by the agent’s sobering reminder of the white crosses that appear far too frequently next to railroad tracks across the country, including the one at the crossing just down the road. 

I grew up 100 feet from the train tracks. I sacrificed many pennies to the unfathomable squishing power of the loud metal god that plowed through our backyard every day. 

To keep us from playing near the tracks, my parents used to tell us that if you are too close when the train goes by, the rush of air from the passing cars can suck you up under the wheels. 

I’m pretty sure I believed this into my teenage years. A powerful bit of family lore that lasted twice as long as Santa. Such was the power of the train. 

Agent Crawford was friendly enough and let me continue on my way with a warning. And on my return trip to the office, I made sure to walk all the way down to the crossing to get across the tracks. 

As luck would have it, just as I approached the lights began signaling an oncoming train. I could have easily gotten across in time, but I know well that you are not supposed to cross when the lights are flashing, and law enforcement agents seem to be dropping out of the sky these days. So I waited. 

I felt the rumble of the approaching engine, heard the screeching of its terrible wheels, and long dormant memories from childhood rose to the surface.

As the rush of air from the passing cars whipped past me, I instinctively took several steps farther back from the tracks, just to be on the safe side. 

Some legends never die. 

(For more information on rail safety, visit

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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