Editor’s note: This is an occasional series on ways drivers can make the streets of Manteca safer.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion clearly remembers the day that he let a motorist that he saw drive around downed railroad crossing arms on Center Street go without a ticket.
It wasn’t because Obligacion — a gung-ho rookie officer at the time — was being nice.
His focus changed after he missed being killed by a few feet doing the same exact thing the motorist did — going around the downed crossing arms.
“I was so taken aback by almost being killed by the train that I forgot about the driver,” Obligacion said.
Emergency vehicles, with red lights and sirens, are allowed to go around downed crossing arms.
It’s something, though, that Obligacion won’t do if he can see a train approaching.
“I looked both ways and I saw the train approaching the Yosemite crossing heading for Center,” the chief recalled. “I thought I had plenty of time.”
What Obligacion learned that day was that even those who go through extensive training to judge speed such as law enforcement officers, can easily misjudge how fast a train is closing in on them.
Having seen more than his share of train-vehicle collisions in Manteca over the years, Obligacion noted trains have a tremendous amount of energy barreling down the tracks at 65 mph.
“An average freight train takes a mile or so to come to a stop,” he said.
He recalled a collision on Walnut Avenue in Manteca where the driver in a big SUV had gone around the arms and was clipped in the rear bumper by an oncoming locomotive. The SUV went flying through the air and into the front yard of a nearby home.
The police chief noted it is against the law:
ufor drivers to go around downed crossing arms or across tracks when the red lights are flashing. The same rule applies to bicyclists and pedestrians.
to stop on the tracks.
to trespass on railroad property.
Being aware of trains and what not to do is critical in Manteca given there are nine at-grade crossings and the fact it isn’t unusual for five trains to pass through town within an hour.
Nor is it unusual after one train passes going one way that another will start moving in the opposite direction where the railroad has double tracks due to a siding at the Industrial Park Drive and Woodward Avenue crossings. When the Altamont Corridor Express extends service into Modesto, the railroad will be double tracked all the way through Manteca with trains in both directions able to travel at 65 mph.
It is why the police chief cautions people who cross right after the arms go up and red lights stop flashing not to do so if there isn’t room on the other side to clear the tracks. Besides, if a police officer sees you do it, it can result in a sizeable fine.
Obligacion noted the actual tracks and accompanying right-of-way are private property. That means if you walk along them you can be cited — or arrested — for trespassing.
The Federal Railroad Administration noted in 2014 there were 916 pedestrian rail trespass fatalities and injuries. Leading the way with 93 deaths — more than twice the next closest state — and 52 injuries is California.
More and more of the California fatalities are youth walking across tracks with music players plugged into their ears or talking on cell phones.
It is why the Union Pacific, at the urging of Manteca Councilman Vince Hernandez, placed cyclone fencing between the track and the Tidewater Bikeway on Moffat Boulevard, behind downtown and Library Park, as well as down to the skate park to prevent youth from taking short cuts.
The FRA reported 2,287 at-grade collisions between vehicles and trains in 2014 with 269 deaths and 849 injuries. California again led the way with 33 deaths. The 2014 collisions and fatalities were the highest since 2008.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has determined a motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die on a crash involving a train than a crash with another vehicle. That’s because a 30-car train hitting the car has the same force of a car running over a soda can, according to federal safety experts.
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