Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri Operation Lifesaver were in Pettis County on Wednesday as part of a railroad enforcement program.
MSHP Troop A, which encompasses Pettis County, has joined Union Pacific Railroad’s “UP Cares” campaign to help educate the public about safety issues when it comes to railroad crossings. Wednesday’s enforcement program was more about education than punishment.
Operation Lifesaver is a not-for-profit safety education organization that promotes safety at railroad crossings and trespass prevention.
“The ultimate goal (Wednesday) is not to write as many tickets as possible, the goal is to promote awareness to the fact that railroad crossings can be dangerous if they don’t observe and watch the warning signs,” said Tim Hull, of Operation Lifesaver.
Throughout the day Wednesday, a member of MSHP rode a Union Pacific train engine with an engineer back and forth along the railroad tracks that cross Engineer Avenue and Emmet Avenue. As the engineer and officer observed crossing violations, they notified other MSHP officers who were stationed in areas around the train tracks, who then made contact with the citizen who made the violation.
“We are taking enforcement action if we see a violation of the state law, which requires vehicles to stop at a railroad grade crossing for the electrical or mechanical signal or with an approaching train,” said MSHP Troop A Public Information Officer Colin Stosberg. “It also includes driving through, under and around a gate or barrier if the train is approaching and the gate is closed or is opening or being closed.
“Our goal is to not have any violations — we want people to recognize the fact train crossings are dangerous and we do have crashes at them, not just in Sedalia but throughout the state and often times they result in fatal injuries.”
During the Democrat’s time on site, an officer from the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department spoke with a female subject who was walking with some children across the tracks about the proper and legal ways to travel near railroad crossings.
Hull said Sedalia was chosen as a location for enforcement due to the high number of crossings and the population, even though Pettis County hasn’t had any violations so far this year. He said engineers and crews who observe a violation submit a report even when law enforcement isn’t present.
According to Hull, in 2015 there were 39 railroad crossing incidents statewide, including eight fatalities and 21 people injured. In 2015, Pettis County had one pedestrian trespassing violation.
Hull also said 66 percent of crashes at a railroad crossing occur at those that have either flashing lights or flashing lights and gates where the car drove around the gates and across the track in front of the train, which was the main violation officers were looking for Wednesday.
“They came up with a slogan two years ago, ‘See tracks, think train,’” Hull said. “People think trains run on a schedule. They don’t always run on a schedule, they can run any time of day, 24 hours a day seven days a week — the slogan they use for that is ‘Any time is train time.’ You just can’t depend on the schedule because there’s things like Amtrak comes through and a train has to go off to the side and it changes its schedule.”
Hull and Stosberg said trespassing is also an issue in Missouri, with people crossing at locations on foot where it’s not a public crossing, as well as people who hunt or ride ATVs along the tracks, or take photos, such as senior photos, on the tracks; all those activities are prohibited on railroad tracks.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.