Valley rail officials working together to curb spike in train fatalities

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- In California, railroad fatalities have increased by more than 10 percent in the last year. On Monday, the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority hosted an event to stress the importance of rail safety.

When it comes to trains, looks can be deceiving.

"We want to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on the railroad," Brian Schmidt with the group said. "We just need people to make better decisions when they're near the railroad tracks."

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority teamed up with the railway, Amtrak and California Operation Lifesaver to make sure people do just that.

"By the time an engineer will see you, they may not be able to stop the train in time," Nancy Sheehan with Operation Lifesaver said. "It takes almost 18 football fields to stop a train traveling 55 miles per hour."

Every three hours in the U.S., a car or person is hit by a train. Sheehan says California leads the nation in trespassing and grade crossing incidents with 590 of them being fatalities over the last five years.

"We were 11 percent increase with trespass incidents," she said. "Our fatality rate went up 70 percent with grade crossing."

All on board the safety train learned the consequences of underestimating the speed of the tracks.

"It's not worth risking your life," Sheehan said. "Not only are you and your family impacted, a crew, passengers everyone on board is impacted for the rest of their lives."

The San Joaquin Valley is home to two of the busiest rail road routes, with Amtrak alone serving more than 1.1 million riders.

Fresno County ranks Top 10 when it comes to crossing and trespassing incidents, so law enforcement is ramping up enforcement.

They warn getting too close is also a danger, trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions.
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