As Amtrak gets ready to return to Roanoke, first responders are making sure they’re prepared in case of emergencies.
Some local emergency agencies took part in safety training run by Amtrak Thursday, getting a tour of a test train to learn how everything works.
This comes two months after an accident in Bedford County where a backhoe tumbled down an embankment and was sideswiped by an Amtrak train during a test run.
First responders taking the classes said there is a lot to learn about Amtrak trains and responding to emergencies on them.
“We just assumed the conductor was someone that would take tickets and help people on and off a train and not really recognize he is the captain of that ship,” said Jack Jones, Jr., chief of Bedford County Fire and Rescue.
This is the first time Bedford County first responders are going through this kind of training, Jones said. At least 50 people in his department have taken the classes run by Amtrak, he added.
“These are very, very powerful,” Jones said of the trains. “They’re powered differently. Their fuel capacity is much greater. And the fact that the rules and regulations for safety purposes are different.”
“We take them through the equipment and show them the safe places, the places that aren’t so safe,” said Chris Bello, Amtrak regional emergency manager.
Bello said he teaches these kinds of classes in several states, often in areas that have never had passenger rail service. The goal, he said, is to help first responders be prepared for anything, eventually taking each group through simulations of possible emergencies.
“These first responders can have a simulated victim – they’ll remove them just the same way they would if it was an injured passenger on one of our trains,” Bello said. “So we do get pretty realistic with the training.”
Amtrak is running these classes for first responders in several agencies across Central and Southwest Virginia, Bello said, adding that he is returning to Roanoke for more classes next week.