In a little more than a month, three people have been struck and killed by trains, which travel the length of the city’s west side, parallel to one of its busiest roads.
To bring awareness of the dangers of driving, walking and bicycling around the tracks, the Turlock Police Department partnered with the Union Pacific Police Department and the California State University, Stanislaus, Police Department on Wednesday to educate motorists and pedestrians at five of the city’s busiest train crossings.
“This isn’t a ‘ticket everybody’ kind of thing. Some people will need a warning, some people make honest mistakes,” Turlock police Sgt. Neil Cervenka said during a briefing before the operation. “But it’s an opportunity for us to educate them as to the dangers. That train comes fast – you don’t know if it’s a 30 mph freight train that’s a mile long or if its a 70 mph Amtrak. You don’t realize it until … it’s on top of you.”
In a three-hour period Wednesday afternoon, officers wrote 11 tickets for train-related vehicle code violations and three for trespassing on Union Pacific property. Mostly they issued warnings, though: 12 to motorists and 12 to trespassers, which can include pedestrians walking across the tracks where it is illegal or unsafe to do so.
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The most recent train fatality on Saturday was a suicide. Russell Holgate, 58, was sitting with his legs crossed on the tracks near West Tuolumne Road when he was hit by a freight train.
But the two prior deaths appear to have been accidents – in both cases bicyclists trying to beat the train.
Edward Moshol, 56, was riding west on Marshall Street when he was hit by a northbound train Aug. 16.
David Arthur Sanchez, 39, died July 19 when he tried to cross in front of a train at Fulkerth Road.
Cervenka said the department has been trying to organize a train safety operation since then but had not been able to until Wednesday as a result of staffing issues.
During the operation, officers stopped pedestrians and motorists who tried to beat the crossing arms, people trespassing on or near the tracks on Union Pacific property, and people stopping on the tracks when traffic backed up at a red light.
Apart from the chance of becoming trapped on the tracks when a train comes, even stopping short of the tracks but beyond the white line under the crossing arms is risky.
“The reason why that’s important … is because sometimes items fall off the train, sometimes cables break, sometimes there’s things hanging off the train, as the train is coming through at 55 mph a metal scrap from a lumber car could be horrendous if you are in that area,” Cervenka said.
One man who was pulled over for stopping on the tracks at Fulkerth and Monte Vista, near the location the bicyclist was killed last month, also was driving on a suspended license. His car was impounded.
Turlock police have conducted train safety operations in the past, but the department plans to start holding them more frequently, possibly as often as twice a month, said Officer Mayra Lewis.
“These tracks have been here longer than Turlock, so we move around them, and when the train crossing arms come down, it’s not worth trying to get around the train,” Cervenka said.