Law enforcement focuses on railroad safety

Local News

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, 94% of all rail-related fatalities and injuries occur at railroad crossings or as a result of trespassing.

As a part of Rail Safety Week, local law enforcement teamed up with Union Pacific Railroad Monday to help educate the public on rail crossing safety.

Union Pacific Police, the Eau Claire Police Department, and Wisconsin State Patrol were patrolling, warning people who were found violating these laws.

“Every three hours there’s either a person or vehicle hit by a train in the United States,” said Gary Koerner, state coordinator at Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety education organization.

Special Agent Mike Marcks with the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department said most people they pulled over said they were unaware what certain lights or signs meant at a railroad crossing.

“That’s the whole purpose of today is education,” said Marcks.

Officers said they pulled many people over and issued warnings. They said they also used their discretion depending on the violation to determine if they would write a citation.

“Our goal isn’t to see how many vehicles we can stop, it’s to get that word out and promote railroad safety,” said Marcks.

Marcks said he hopes their encounters with the public will encourage them to spread the word and remind others on rail-road safety.

Koerner said this is a problem officials see locally and state-wide.

“Last year in the state of Wisconsin, we had 39 crashes and out of those 39 crashes there were 11 fatalities,” said Koerner.

According to the FRA, last year there were 270 fatal vehicle-train crashes in the U.S.

Trespassing is another big issue officials want to address. Walking on or along the tracks is considered trespassing.

“Railroad property is 25 feet on each side of the tracks, so if you’re anywhere near that, you’re trespassing,” said Koerner.

Operation Lifesaver offers tips for safety, including to never walk, run, play, or take pictures on the railroad right-of-way. It also says to never attempt to outrun an approaching train, as it can take a mile or more to stop.

Here are some other crossing safety tips:
-Never drove or walk around lowered grade crossing gates.
-Never begin to drive across the track unless you can get all the way across.
-Always slow down and stop your vehicle prior to train tracks when lights begin to flash.

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