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Students walk in front of train
Motorists cited for ignoring crossing gates in Operation Lifesaver
Union Pacific locomotive engineer of 30 years, Kevin Droivold, of Stockton chats with Ripon police traffic officer Steve Meece on the operation of the diesel engine through Manteca. - photo by GLENN KAHL
High school students created a disturbing presence as they walked in front of a northbound Union Pacific train Friday afternoon bringing an immediate reaction from police.  

The “Operation Lifesaver” passenger train made numerous runs up and down the railroad right-of-way Friday in an effort to alert Mantecans of the dangers of not being watchful around train traffic traveling through the city.

Manteca and Union Pacific police officers paid close attention to the crossings during the hour and a half series of short runs the passenger train made through Manteca.  Three Manteca motorcycle officers assisted in the event watching for crossing violators from 1:30 until 3 p.m.

Students from Manteca High School were seen walking on their way home from school in a group shortly after their 2:30 p.m. dismissal. They walked in front of a northbound train at the South Main Street crossing,   paying no attention to the red warning lights and the activated crossing gates.

As they passed the gates they were confronted by two uniformed UP officers who had parked their unmarked SUV on the railroad right-of-way just south of the tracks.  The officers hesitated in issuing citations to the teens, while instead counseling them of the dangers of their actions – and what could have been a fateful situation. Drivers who ignored the crossing arms Friday were cited.    

Another great concern of the railroad is the crossing at Industrial Park Drive/Spreckels Avenue  where motorists will often stop on the tracks when the signal on the corner of Moffat Boulevard turns red and traffic backs up to the south.  

Those stopping on the tracks are often locked in because of other vehicles that have pulled up behind them – with no way to get away from an approaching train.  UP police officers have been seen in the past citing surprised motorists unsuspecting that a railroad officer could issue them a citation on a city street worth several hundred dollars.

East Union High School Principal John Alba accompanied some 15 of his students on the train ride where they witnessed presentations put on by Union Pacific and watched the crossings.    Retired UP veteran and presenter Earl Raider had been with the company for 32 years including the long ago merger with Western Pacific Railroad.  It has now been 26 years since he retired.

Also on board from East Union were a class of freshman geometry students and seniors from the Link Crew leadership group at the school.  Some of the students along with their instructors sat in one of the passenger cars while the remainder of the group located in a dome car.  Most all of the students noted that they had been aboard another train in the past year on a school trip to the Bay Area – the Altamont Commuter Express.

In addition to having their principal along, Tom Liberato, driver education instructor; Debbie Krug of the Math Department, and Link instructor Scott Sacuskie were also on board as was City Councilman Vince Hernandez.  Other high schools were invited but apparently could not work the event into their schedules.

Interim Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde, along with two of his officers, also took the railroad’s educational trip down the rails – a program that is put on every couple of years.

A UP spokesman said the railroad is concerned about the rails cutting through Manteca community due to past mishaps that have occurred over a span of several years.  It was surprising to learn that one diesel engine weighs as much as 200 ton and there were two on the train.

After the train crew concluded their public outreach in Manteca and other valley communities over the past week, the passenger cars were taken back to rail yards in Oakland for storage.