Near Miss Illustrates Need for Constant Safety Vigilance

By Terry Hanken, senior manager-Train Operations

Terry Hanken, senior manager-Train Operations, Southern Region | LR

Terry Hanken; senior manager-Train Operations; Pratt, Kansas.

Railroaders can’t become complacent or lose respect for the heavy equipment they work around every day. A close call early in my career brought that message home for me and underscored why safety must always be top of mind.

The incident happened in 2000, two years after I began working as a conductor in Herington, Kansas, a small town about two hours west of Kansas City. I was riding on a locomotive while building a train in a rail yard. I stepped off the engine, never looking back, and proceeded to stand on the crossties of the track beside the engine. My engineer quickly cautioned me that a railcar was rolling down the track beside me – a railcar I had released earlier and had forgotten about. I glanced over my shoulder and stepped aside as the car quietly rolled by.

Senior Manager Terry Hanken pictured with family. | MR

Senior Manager Terry Hanken pictured with wife, Jeni, and their three sons. Hanken's sons are also employees of Union Pacific.

I never heard it, didn’t remember it, had become complacent. After the car passed, I sat down on the ballast next to the engine for about 10 minutes, in shock. I was angry at myself for forgetting the simplest rule – never foul the rail and always keep your head on a swivel.

Without a doubt, the locomotive engineer acting as my guardian angel saved my life that day. He has since retired, and I thank him every time I see him.

I’ve told that story to teammates over the years, first as a peer trainer and now as a senior manager of Train Operations in Pratt, Kansas. I’ve called the Kansas City Service Unit – now the Heartland Service Unit – my home my entire career and watched as the service unit went from last in safety to the top of the list. We’ve had great success these past few years, thanks to employee engagement, recognition and hard work. We all want to do the right thing. Making safe choices as we carry out everyday tasks can be the difference between life and death and how we ensure everyone can go home safe to their loved ones at the end of the day.

I now pass the story of my guardian angel to my three sons, who also work for Union Pacific. Cole is a manager of Train Operations at Wichita, Trey is a conductor working out of Herington, and Drew is a conductor who works out of Salina. I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished in their short careers, and what the railroad has afforded them to provide for their families. I can’t preach safety enough to those three, and the importance of always doing the right thing!

It is a great honor to be selected Safety Manager of the Year for the No. 1 service unit on the system. I give thanks to my wife of 28 years, Jeni, who has been there when the phone rings in the middle of the night for the last 26 years and has always supported my career and my decision making. She grounded me into the person I am today.

This honor is not about me. It is a reflection of ALL the Heartland Service Unit employees who work safe and work hard each and every day. We take pride in the fruits of our labor and look out for each other. We like to win!

Editor’s Note: Union Pacific’s Terry Hanken, senior manager-Train Operations was named 2023 Safety Manager of the Year for the Heartland Service Unit.

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