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UP train helps teach drivers a lesson
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Union Pacific Railroad engineer Mark Sutter sits at the controls of his Safety Train diesel locomotive waiting to start a demonstration run along Moffat Boulevard. - photo by GLENN KAHL

School bus drivers from Manteca Unified School District boarded the Union Pacific Safety Train Wednesday morning to get a better idea of the dangers they face at rail crossings driving school children on the roadways.

With their yellow school buses parked across the tracks,  some two dozen drivers climbed aboard the old coaches and a dome car in two shifts and listened to a presentation by Michel Aartman and other  volunteers with Operation Lifesaver.  Aartman said they were in awe when they saw a bicyclist drinking a cup of coffee while riding in the path of the engine.

Drivers pointed out a safety condition of concern at the Yosemite Avenue crossing where the oleander bushes have grown so tall that it is hard for them to see over them and down the tracks.

Aartman delivers some 10 presentations a month from Stockton to Fresno and Livermore.  The Manteca woman also presents the “Get Real Behind the Wheel” driver safety course at the Altamont Speedway.  In Stockton she makes regular presentations to elementary school students from four to 14 years old regarding Operation Lifesaver.

The train made several runs from Austin Road to a point past Airport Way so the public riders would be given a front seat observation of what train staffers deal with on a daily basis.  There were delays Wednesday with priority trains coming down the main line that put the safety train temporarily on the siding until it got the go ahead signal light.

In the past Manteca traffic officers have assisted the Union Pacific police with monitoring traffic at the crossings and ticketing offenders.  With everyone in the department on scheduled training of various types from SWAT to Department of Justice PAS instruction, the enforcement was left to the UP officers and two Manteca reserve patrolmen.

Reserves Steve Walker and Daniel Skrimager filled security needs from 8 a.m. until the end of the program at noon.  Walker otherwise works for ACE Train in Stockton and Skrimager operates the proshop at the bowling alley.

Officers wrote only three citations with two being for vehicles stopped on the tracks and the third involved a driver navigating around the gates.  Those tickets carry an average fine between $150 and $350, according to Pat McGrath, senior special agent for UP.