Pacific police officers experienced an “engineer’s eye view” of railroad crossings as they rode in the cab of a train engine to observe traffic at the city’s four railroad crossings Wednesday, April 3.
The exercise, Operation Lifesaver, was part of the Union Pacific Railroad’s UP Cares program, an initiative designed to educate the public about grade crossing and pedestrian safety.
Throughout the morning, officers rotated between riding in the train engine and patrolling Pacific’s railways and crossings to observe any violations by pedestrians or motorists.
Capt. Larry Cook with the Pacific Police Department said a total of 10 citations were issued during the exercise, three for trespassing and seven for crossing violations.
Cook said that the majority of the citations were issued to people who proceeded across the tracks after the train passed and the gates went up, but the warning lights were still flashing.
“We’re trying to make people more aware,” he said. “What people may not realize is that they need to stop when the red lights come on, whether the arms are up or down, just like you would stop at a red light and wait for it to turn green.”
Something else people may not know is that it’s considered trespassing to cross a railroad track anywhere but at a designated crossing.
“Three weeks ago, a guy got hit and killed by an Amtrak (in Pacific) because he didn’t walk down to the crossing,” Cook said.
Since he has been with the Pacific Police Department, Cook said two or three children who were playing on the tracks were killed.
Although Cook didn’t ride the train Wednesday, he did have the opportunity to ride along a few months ago during another Operation Lifesaver exercise. He said being in the cab of a train gives a whole different perspective.
“You see what the engineer sees,” he said. “You get to see why they can’t stop on a dime. There’s no mercy up there. If a car or a person is on the tracks, there’s nothing they can do.”
UP Engineer Tony Kennon said he’s had close calls while on duty.
“I’ve had cars on the tracks so close that I couldn’t see them under me,” he said. “I missed them, but I had to look back in the mirror to be sure.”
Kennon said people stopped at a double track crossing where there is no signal arms or gates should wait until the train is down the track far enough to see if there is another train coming on the other track.
“I came close to hitting a jogger in Kirkwood awhile back,” he said. “The train had passed and the guy walks around the gate and started doing stretching exercises on the rail. I was coming from the opposite direction and he didn’t see me until I blew the whistle.”
UP conductor Josh Stallings said as a safety precaution, people should stay back at least four car lengths from the tracks at a crossing, regardless of where the stopping point is marked.
“I never pull right up to the crossing or gate,” he said. “Most derailments happen at crossings.”
Cook said people stopped at crossings that are between two tracks should be aware and make room for people behind them.
“A tractor trailer was caught between the tracks and the car in front didn’t pull up enough so the back of the trailer was still on the tracks and it was hit,” he said.
Cook said some people questioned Wednesday why they were given citations and not warnings.
“We want them to spread the word (about laws pertaining to railroad crossings),” he said. “Nobody likes a ticket, but it could save a life.”