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BREAKING NEWS

Warning – train coming

By Staff | Nov 3, 2008

“Our engineers see it every day,” says Dirk Petersen, manager of operating practices for the Union Pacific Railroad. “They call it the ‘heart-stopper.'”

The ‘it’ he refers to is motorists driving over railroad crossings in front of a moving train.

“They don’t stop at the stop sign at some crossings, and are right in the locomotive’s path,” he says.

Sometimes they see the train and think they have plenty of time to cross before it gets there. Petersen says if motorists can see an oncoming train, they need to stop.

Other times, Petersen says, it is a matter of complacency.

“It might be a crossing they go over a couple of times a day, every day, and they just forget they need to stop and look for a train,” he explains.

On Thursday, Oct. 23, Petersen was in Blue Earth to promote safety at railroad crossings. It is a national program called Operation Lifesaver.

In order to draw attention to the problem of crossing violations, the Union Pacific had three locomotives running together across Faribault County, with law enforcement squads patrolling the grade crossings.

One sheriff’s deputy was in the cab of the locomotive, in radio contact with the five squad cars – both county sheriff deputies and Blue Earth police officers participated.

It didn’t take long to see violations. At the crossing west of Blue Earth near the industrial park, a car failed to stop at the crossing stop sign and drove right in front of the oncoming train.

An officer pulled the motorist over, issuing a citation that will cost the careless driver $280. The officers also gave warnings to some who failed to come to a complete stop.

Petersen says drivers need to realize that it takes a loaded freight train a mile to come to a full stop, so even if the engineer sees the car, they can’t brake in time.

“We just lay on the whistle and hope the car gets out of our way,” says Jeff, the engineer of the locomotive on the county crossing operation.

Federal regulations require him to sound the whistle three times at every crossing, but a lot of people just ignore it, he says.

“I see people cut in front of a train many times on every run,” he says. “I even see them go around flashing cross arms – I don’t know what they are thinking.”

The weight differential between a loaded freight train and a car, is like the weight of the car compared to a pop can, Petersen says.

“The car is going to easily smash the pop can, just as the train will crush the car,” he says.

There have been several vehicle-train accidents in the area, Petersen recalls, including a train hitting a grain trailer just days before the Operation Lifesaver exercise. However, the crossing ‘sting’ operation was planned long before that, he says, and is an annual event.

Two years ago there was a fatal train crossing in Blue Earth, Petersen recalls.

“The goal here is to increase motorist’s awareness, eliminate car-train collisions, and make crossings safe,” Petersen says.

Nationally, there is a car-train collision every two hours, 24-hours a day. Over 400 people are killed in train collisions every year.

“Another 400 or so are killed by trains because they have trespassed on railroad property,” Petersen says. This includes hunters, people fishing from train bridges, and walking in train yards, he explains.

A man in Wells was injured recently while trying to crawl under a train.

“Public safety is one of our priorities,” Petersen says. “So we work on keeping people educated as to the possible dangers around trains. This crossing operation is one of the ways we do that.”

Although several local residents were upset at having been caught in the enforcement campaign, Petersen says it is an effective way to spread the word to the public.

“It also helps educate local law enforcement personnel, as far as what to look for at a grade crossing,” he says. “They can issue these citations any time, whether a train is going by or not.” train collision every two hours, 24-hours a day. Over 400 people are killed in train collisions every year.

“Another 400 or so are killed by trains because they have trespassed on railroad property,” Petersen says. This includes hunters, people fishing from train bridges, and walking in train yards, he explains.

A man in Wells was injured recently while trying to crawl under a train.

“Public safety is one of our priorities,” Petersen says. “So we work on keeping people educated as to the possible dangers around trains. This crossing operation is one of the ways we do that.”

Although several local residents were upset at having been caught in the enforcement campaign, Petersen says it is an effective way to spread the word to the public.

“It also helps educate local law enforcement personnel, as far as what to look for at a grade crossing,” he says. “They can issue these citations any time, whether a train is going by or not.”