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Train crews harbor horror of taking a life on the rails
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Suicide by train has occurred all too often in Manteca.

Train crews are forced to suffer quietly after running down someone set on taking their life by train. The worst, a retired Union Pacific conductor said this week, is making eye contact with the individual right before impact.

Under new railroad policy the engineer and conductor must take three days off work following a death on the rails, similar to the policy that involves police in officer involved shootings. There is little they can do other than hitting the emergency braking system as it takes up to a mile to bring the train to a stop.

In the case of the 14-year-old Manteca High freshman, the girl reportedly sat by the rails as she texted her friends that she was just sitting on the right of way — waiting for a train to come.  It was early evening and witnesses said she walked onto the tracks and raised her arms to the train crew — an image they will never forget.

While suicide by train is hard to predict in anyone’s mind, it definitely affects family members, friends, and complete strangers.

 Train crews don’t get paid enough to face an expected six to eight suicides during their careers.  Some can shrug it off but others can’t lose the memory.

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Death averted on Manteca rails 10 years ago

Fresh in my mind goes back some 10 years when a man in a wheelchair was stuck in the rails just before noon.  A train was coming from the south, trapping him in the path of the fast moving freight.  It was a Thursday and the day Manteca Rotary met on North Main Street.  Two of the club’s members spotted the man and realized he was in trouble with fate rolling down the rails toward him.  The two parked their cars on the north side of Center Street and sprinted to rescue him.  It wasn’t easy — the wheels were jammed into the slot in the rails, but they accomplished what they had set out to do with little time to spare.

Fatalities on the tracks over the years in Manteca have also affected the community’s first responders who long remember what they have seen at the site.  That list includes police, fire, ambulance medics, and yes, even news photographers who register indelible recall marks on their brains replayed in dreams with a varying level of depressions — not to match the grief of parents.

A vivid memory still lingers from a Western Pacific Train collision with a van filled with students at the WP tracks on West Yosemite Avenue.  While it was probably more than 20 years ago, it is a memory that saw the van catch fire as the diesel pushed the van up the line and beyond killing eight Tracy High students.

There have been way too many choosing suicide by train, obviously not in a mental state to consider what it would do to a train crew unable to stop even at 25 to 30 miles an hour, let alone the some 50 mile an hour speed through Manteca. 

In the early ‘60s there was a crash on the northbound rails at Airport Way where a motorist seemingly ignored the warning lights and drove across the rails losing her life.  There were close to a dozen cars derailed and a section of one rail bent like spaghetti that came up through the floor of the tender behind the engine where a wife, mother and grandmother were killed. That was in the day of the Southern Pacific’s ownership. The crash caused a lengthy closure of the main line.

Meanwhile there have been a series of train-pedestrian incidents up and down the line, being something of a popular choice in suicides.

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Fencing has done little to prevent suicides by train

Union Pacific has been reportedly installing cameras on its diesel engines as a protection against potential lawsuits.  Fencing through downtown areas has been installed but does little good when someone is intent on getting onto the rails.  Train officials have said that people intent on getting to the tracks will go over, through or under the fencing.

It’s a quick way to eliminate the pains in life, whether physical or mental,  with little thought to how their decision will  affect others. Union Pacific Railroad has worked hard to educate the community with its Safety Train that routinely runs up and down the tracks while Manteca traffic officers and UP police watch for motorists making illegal crossings between Airport Way and Austin Road.

Students with ear plugs continue to cross the tracks putting themselves in jeopardy of oncoming trains with their 400-ton locomotives that can’t stop on a dime.  They are walking home and don’t recognize the danger.  One woman reportedly drove beyond the flashing red lights at a rural crossing — said she didn’t see the gates come down.  She was on her cell phone and there were no gates to see.

Trespassing along the tracks is illegal. 

The railroad running through Manteca  is a greater danger if it is ignored by parents or children and the motoring public that all too often try to beat a train to a crossing to save a few seconds in their day.