June 25, 2014

Railroad safety enforced by Union Pacific Police in Modesto

Sometimes it’s inattention, others it’s intentional; every year in Modesto people are killed or badly hurt by trains.

Sometimes it’s inattention, others times it’s intentional; every year in Modesto, people are killed or badly hurt by trains.

Members of the Modesto Police Department’s crime reduction team and traffic unit partnered with the Union Pacific Police Department on Wednesday to cite and educate motorists of the dangers of the railways and the laws that govern them.

Officers wrote 30 citations to people causing “gridlock” by stopping for red lights on the tracks instead of at the limit line, for walking under the crossing arms as they were coming down and a train was approaching, and for camping or otherwise trespassing along the tracks on Union Pacific property.

Even for those who weren’t cited, Modesto police Officer John Wohler said, “they see the Modesto Police Department stopping people for being on the railroad tracks. At least it sends the message it’s being enforced.”

Some people think they have enough time to cross or that the train is at a safe distance. Others are distracted by the music playing in their headphones, are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or are wrapped up in their own thoughts.

One motorist cited Tuesday stopped on the tracks and panicked and tried to back up as the crossing arm came down behind her on Tuolumne Boulevard. She proceeded forward when she realized it was too late.

What most people don’t understand is trains travel through the city limits at an average of 40 mph and take a mile or more to stop, said Union Pacific Officer Dan Rose.

Since 2009, 11 people have been killed or injured by trains in Modesto. The stretch of track that runs through Modesto has the highest train-vs.-pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, according to Union Pacific.

The most recent fatality was June 10 when a 36-year-old woman walking on the tracks near Beckwith Road was struck by a train. Her death was ruled a suicide, according to the Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office.

Rose, who before becoming a Union Pacific officer worked for 14 years as a conductor, said train fatalities take a toll not just on the family of the victims but on the train crew as well.

“A lot of people, I think, don’t consider what the crew goes through,” he said. “It’s emotional for them, too. You run over it in your mind, although you know … there’s not a lot that you can do.”

Rose was the conductor during three accidents – two involving pedestrians and one a motorist. No one was killed, but one woman, he said, had to have limbs amputated.

In addition to 20 traffic tickets written Wednesday, officers wrote 10 citations for trespassing along the railways.

Wohler gave a warning citation to a man and his nephew who were sitting on cement facing the tracks near the location of the last train-vs.-pedestrian fatality. They said they were train buffs and chose to go there as an alternative when their plans fell through to visit the railroad museum in Sacramento.

But Wohler said many of the trespassers on Union Pacific property are taking advantage of the general seclusion of the railways to hide out from police.

One of the people cited Wednesday had an outstanding warrant. Notices to vacate the property immediately were left on eights camps.

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