Crackdown on Valley drivers trying to beat trains

FRESNO, Calif.

The force of a train hitting your car is equivalent to running over a soda can with your car. That's the lifesaving message one train company wants you to know before you consider a bold move around any train.

When the crossing arms drop, Valley drivers in a rush, immediately make a decision. Action News watched as driver chose to dart across before the train arrived, another driver decided to idle on the tracks.

Tim Souza patrols the tracks everyday as the only Union Pacific Officer in Fresno, Madera and Tulare County. He says there's one misconception he sees everyday.

Souza said, "A lot of people get the thought in their mind that if they get stuck at a crossing that they are going to be sitting there for 10 minutes, but in actuality, it will be 45 seconds to a minute."

When the red lights start flashing, even before the arms come down, it's just like running a red stop light. More than three dozen people learned that lesson through citations.

Driving around crossing arms can amount to even heftier fines, since it's breaking five laws. The violations include: driving on the wrong side of the road, crossing double yellow lines, running a red light, going around downed gates and trespassing.

Union Pacific representatives aren't sure why the Central Valley is such a problematic area. But each shift, conductors report two to three, close calls or near misses of either pedestrians or vehicles.

"We don't have a definitive answer for that," said Lisa Lawson Stark. "We know that this is a obviously higher population area. There are a lot of people who actually walk in this area which brings a lot of people, unfortunately onto the railroad tracks. What a lot of people don't know is that railroad property is private property so they don't recognize they are trespassing."

It takes one mile for a train traveling 55 miles an hour to stop and trains can't swerve. Union Pacific Police hope educating communities like Fresno will prevent future tragedies.

"It just gets frustrating everyday," said Souza. "No matter how many citations you write, how many accidents people read about. You still see it."

In just two hours, 41 tickets were written to people who broke the law around train tracks. The enforcement operations will continue once a month.

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