County and local law officers joined with the Union Pacific Railroad to ride a train through Des Moines Wednesday to raise awareness of motorists on National Railroad Crossing Safety Day. Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson rode with them.
It didn’t take long after the engine rolled away from the Union Pacific’s Des Moines rail yard to see an example of the things U.P. engineers say they see every day. At the very first crossing the red signal lights came on and shortly after a car raced across the track. U.P. manager Eric Bauer radioed cops waiting on the other side of the crossing, and the driver of the car was given a ticket. (Photo shows view of a crossing from the train engine)
Bauer says if the red lights come on, you must stop and look both ways to see if it is safe to proceed. Other crossings have gates that come down as the train reaches a sensor before the crossing. Bauer says if there are crossing gates, and those gates go down, you’re required to wait for the gates to go back up. Bauer says even if you don’t see a train coming, don’t go around the gates.
Later down the line, a semi barely made it across the rails and the crossing gate nearly hit its trailer. Bauer says it’s a common at crossings. He says it’s hard to understand why people race the trains, as Bauer says while they may save a few minutes, they’re putting their lives and the lives of their passengers in danger.
Engineer Rick Gross says he can usually tell when a driver is going to make a run for it, and it puts him on the edge of his seat. Gross says he sees it happening and is ready to stop. Even if Gross sees the car early, it’s not just a matter of stepping on the brake. He says if it’s a heavy train, it may take a mile or two to stop a train depending on its size and age. Gross says the big train is going to win almost all battles when it comes to hitting a car or truck.
But, he says no engineer wants to hit a car, much less see someone die before their eyes. Bauer says it’s not only your safety Union Pacific is worried about, as he says train crews can, and have been seriously injured or killed in rail crossing accidents too. To learn more about rail crossing safety check out the Iowa Operation Lifesaver website.