“A train is like an optical illusion. It doesn’t look like it’s moving, but it is,” said Special Agent Mark Wasko of the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department.
The recent collision between an Amtrak passenger train and garbage truck on Wilson Road in northwest Independence prompted the Independence Police Traffic Safety Unit and Union Pacific Police Department to conduct rail crossing enforcement Tuesday morning.
A three-car locomotive traveled back and forth on a railroad track alongside Noland Road at slow speeds for two hours as nearly a dozen law enforcement units scattered at various crossings pulled over drivers who failed to stop. Some even drove through rail crossings despite flashing railroad signal lights warning of an oncoming train.
The purpose behind Tuesday’s rail crossing enforcement was to increase awareness of the danger of violating railroad crossing signals and to reduce rail crossing crashes, Independence Police Sgt. John Passiglia said.
“As the holidays are approaching, people tend to be distracted with shopping and such. They need to keep focus on the road, and safety is important,” Wasko said.
Independence and Union Pacific law enforcement worked in conjunction with Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization that provides public education to prevent railroad-related accidents. According to Operation Lifesaver, a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours. Wasko added that a driver is 20 times more likely to die from a train collision than from any other traffic collision.
Three people have been seriously injured and one killed in last two years as a result of railroad crossing traffic collisions in Independence, Passiglia said. Missouri traffic law states that vehicles are required to stop as soon as railroad crossing signal lights begin to flash and can proceed as long as it is safe. Missouri school buses are required to stop at any rail crossing regardless of flashing signals.
Union Pacific Railroad conductor Tom Delacruz and engineer Gary Weis, who have been locomotive operators for more than 40 years, say train collisions happen more than you would think.
“Some people even tease a train by walking in front of it and then backing away,” Delacruz said.
Delacruz and Weis said trains travel at an average of 60 to 65 mph. The type of freight a locomotive hauls – whether passengers or supplies – contributes to the distance required for the train to make a complete stop.
“It takes a half of a mile, sometimes even a full mile (for a train to stop),” Delacruz said.
Delacruz also pointed out that most collisions occur during the mornings and evenings when most drivers are either going to or returning from work.
“The (train) crew is innocent,” Wasko said. “They are doing everything in their power to stop that train.”
Delacruz and Weis have been participating in rail crossing enforcement operations for nearly 15 years. The two said at one year’s operation, 87 vehicles were pulled over in less than a day for violating rail crossing stops.
Wasko said that Kansas City’s centralized location in the country makes it a hub for railroads, which have numerous tracks throughout the area.
“An impact with a train is completely avoidable,” Wasko said. “This enforcement is about safety.”