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Authorities look to put the brakes on unsafe habits around trains

Authorities look to put the brakes on unsafe habits around trains

A CSU Stanislaus Police officers monitors the traffic during a railroad safety enforcement effort Tuesday in Turlock.


POSTED August 28, 2014 6:28 p.m.

When the railroad crossing arms at Monte Vista Avenue and Golden State Boulevard started to lower Wednesday afternoon most of the vehicles began to slow down, but there is always that one exception.

In this case it was a pickup driver who accelerated to get over the railroad before the crossing arms came down all the way. The driver may have made it across the railroad tracks, but their progress came to a halt when they were stopped by a California State University, Stanislaus police officers and issued a ticket for the infraction.

The scene was repeated up and down the railroad tracks in Turlock as local law enforcement and Union Pacific police officers try to turn the tide in a recent spate of deaths on the train tracks.

“These tracks have been here longer than Turlock,” said Turlock Police Sgt. Neil Cervenka. “So we move around them and when the train crossing arms come down, it’s not worth trying to get around the train.”

The efforts between the Turlock Police Department, the CSU Stanislaus Police Department, and the Union Pacific Police Department were spurred after David Arthur Sanchez, 39, of Turlock was killed on July 19 when he tried to cross at Golden State Boulevard and Fulkerth Road on his bicycle as a train approached. Before an enforcement effort could be set into motion Turlock saw two more deaths on the railroad tracks. On Aug. 16, Edison Moshol, 56, of Turlock was killed when he rode his bicycle around the crossing arms at the railroad tracks at Marshall Street and was struck and killed. On Saturday Russell Holgate, 58, committed suicide on the railroad tracks at Tuolumne and N. Golden State Boulevard.

About 25 to 50 feet on either side of the railroad tracks is owned by the railroad company and is considered private property. People are termed to be trespassing when they use the railroad right of way without authorization and when they cross a railroad while crossing arms are activated.

It is also an infraction to stop a vehicle or a bicycle within the white lines just outside of the crossing arms. The practice is called gridlock and can have a tragic outcome if something falls off the train or extends beyond the tracks.

“As the train is coming through at 55 mph, a scrap metal from a lumber car could be horrendous if you are in that area,” Cervenka said.

The operation resulted in 11 vehicle code citations, 12 vehicle code warnings, three citations/arrests for trespassing, and 12 warnings for trespassing.

“This isn’t a ‘ticket everybody’ kind of thing,” Cervenka said. “Some people will need a warning, some people make honest mistakes. It is an opportunity for us to educate them to the dangers. That train comes fast… you don’t realize it until it’s on top of you.”

The Turlock Police Department plans on partnering with the Union Pacific Police Department every other month for additional enforcement efforts.

The Federal Railroad Administration has found the number one cause of death in the railroad industry to be caused by people trespassing or ignoring the crossing arms and lights. The FRA doesn’t track how many of the deaths are suicides. Estimates put the number of train pedestrian suicides at 20 to 50 percent of the total incidents.

 

In 2013 California had the most trespassing fatalities at 76, which was 50 more than the second most in Florida.

Union Pacific spokesperson Aaron Hunt said people can become too complacent around trains and think they would have enough time to get out of the way of an approaching freight train.

A number of factors can subdue the noise of an approaching train, including pedestrians listening to music or talking on cell phones.

The advancements in the structure of railroad tracks have also made for quieter trains. Because they are in general longer and smoother than they used to be, the traditional clackty-clack sound signaling a train is approaching is a thing of the past.

Another contributing factor is the “quiet zones” that some towns have enacted. This prohibits trains from blasting their horns during certain times of the day.

“Something as simple as wind direction can muffle the noise of a moving train,” Hunt said. “People also think they would feel a train approaching through the rumble of the tracks. Where the train wheel and track meet, it’s a diameter of a dime. This is what makes trains fuel efficient and that lack of friction minimizes the vibrations that are sent down the tracks.”

It also takes a train a considerable distance to stop even when the emergency brake is pulled. The FRA states that a train going 60 mph will continue traveling at least one mile after an emergency brake is pulled before it will come to a rest.

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