Stay off the tracks, UP says
Walking along railroad tracks can be hazardous, as one pedestrian discovered earlier this month. Luckily, the unidentified Colfax man lived to tell about being hit by a moving train. It’s also an important reminder to Colfax area residents that it’s prudent to be cautious around railroad tracks.
According to Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt, the adult male involved in the April 6 accident “was walking along our track along the railroad ties and our train crew spotted him and sounded the horn multiple times.” The pedestrian, Hunt said, crossed over to the other side of the track, still near the edge of the railroad ties, and “still walking (along the track) even though we were sounding the horn” and “was hit by our train.” The train crew put the train in emergency stop process and “came to rest about ½ mile from the incident,” about ½ mile south of the Amtrak platform near the Grass Valley Street railroad crossing.
The individual who was hit, Hunt said, was later found in the downtown area of Colfax by deputies from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and transported to an area hospital. No additional information on his condition was available.
“We elected not to issue a citation to him; he was obviously very lucky to survive that,” Hunt said.
Hunt said Union Pacific has its own police force – authorized by federal law –and that its officers regularly patrol the railroad right of way.
“As UP was building tracks heading west from Omaha in the 1860s, there was a need for security in that kind of environment. That need continues today,” Hunt said. Union Pacific special agents, he said, are commissioned police officers who have the authority to issue citations for moving violations and other issues like trespassing on railroad property. UP police officers, he said, often have a law enforcement background with many years of experience. “It’s a real benefit for us. … They do a great job for us,” Hunt said. “We’re very lucky to have them.”
Union Pacific police also work closely with local law enforcement in the jurisdictions where UP operates trains.
“It’s a very important part of our effort to keep our employees safe as well as trying to be sure residents of the communities where we operate are safe,” Hunt said. “Our UP police invest a lot of time and energy not only patrolling, but collaborating with local law enforcement.” He said local law officers can also write citations to pedestrians who may be trespassing on Union Pacific property.
Hunt said Union Pacific is proactive about educating the public about the dangers of being around railroad property, including operating a safety train that has visited Colfax in the past.
“We were a founding member of Operation Lifesaver in the 1970s, and continue to be a major supporter,” Hunt said. Among other programs, the rail safety education nonprofit organization reaches out to school-age youngsters on how dangers playing on railroad property can be.
Over the last 10 to 15 years as sparsely populated places have grown, so has foot and automotive traffic, which has required a stepped-up presence by UP police, Hunt said. “Our entire company has had to focus a lot of energy and resources on reminding people that they need to take proactive steps around railroad tracks.”
Safety is a year-round concern for Union Pacific, and it’s no different this time of year. This week, Hunt’s office issued a plea to professional photographers, urging them to refrain from taking photos of high school seniors, wedding parties and other subjects on train tracks or trestles.
The news release said that last year more than 800 people were injured or killed while trespassing on railroad property in the U.S., according to preliminary Federal Railroad Administration statistics.
Operation Lifesaver has some important tips for professional photographers – and information useful to the public in general –considering a photo shoot near the tracks: Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks; an optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train's distance from you, as well as its speed; the average train overhangs the track by at least three feet; railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property; no tracks should be assumed to be abandoned or inactive.
Colfax’s Jim Wood, a rail safety activist and past president of the Placer Sierra Railroad Heritage Society, is aware that people like to take photographs at spectacular scenes like bridges and tunnels. However, he said, “There are none that are abandoned; all are used, active live railroad tracks.” People, Wood said, “would never dream of going out and doing silly things like that in the middle of the freeway. Railroad tracks are a thoroughfare for trains that pose similar dangers.”