Authorities staked out a Jefferson City rail crossing Friday as part of a national effort to improve safety at crossings.
Missouri Operation Lifesaver, the rail safety education organization, is participating in "Operation Clear Track," the largest railroad safety law enforcement operation in the United States, involving more than 600 police or sheriff departments across 48 states. The rail safety initiative is spearheaded by Amtrak and the national Operation Lifesaver program during Rail Safety Week in the United States and Canada.
During Operation Clear Track, police patrolled highway rail grade crossings where there have been a high number of incidents, according to preliminary data by the Federal Railroad Administration. Law enforcement officials enforced Missouri grade crossing and trespassing laws, writing citations and warnings to violators.
From 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, a Union Pacific engine traveled back and forth at a crossing on West Main Street near the intersection with Missouri Boulevard. During that time, five vehicles were stopped and three citations were issued for crossing the tracks in an unsafe manner.
"Every three hours in the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train," said Tim Hull, Missouri Operation Lifesaver state coordinator. "While we have made strides in reducing deaths and injuries, the goal of Operation Clear Track and other Rail Safety Week activities is raising awareness of the need for safe behavior near tracks and trains."
Hull said the track they focused on Friday is a siding, so drivers more than likely get used to the fact that trains aren't always coming through on that track.
"That makes it even more dangerous for drivers because they aren't expecting it," Hull said. "That's why these efforts take place. Anytime is train time. Always expect a train."
Hull said they focused on this crossing because the area has pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well as regular vehicle traffic.
"What I noticed during today's enforcement were the people approaching the crossing who could hear the train whistle and hesitated, but instead of waiting they sped up to get across," Hull said. "Even though the engine was going slow, about 10 mph, that can be deceptive. (At) most crossings in this area, the trains are going at nearly 60 mph. Many people probably think that if the train is going slow I can beat it, but in many cases, that's just not so."
Hull said continued efforts like what took place Friday has resulted in fewer deaths at Missouri crossings.
"Through the end of August, there have been 19 crossing incidents and one fatality and eight injuries," he said. "Compared to the same time last year, there were 30 incidents with eight fatalities and 12 injuries. Across the nation though, trespassing incidents have surpassed crossing incidents. This is where people walk on tracks or close to them, and they shouldn't be there. In Missouri, 10 incidents have been reported with six fatalities and four injuries through August. That's roughly the same numbers as last year."