'Operation Lifesaver' improves railroad safety

POCATELLO — Stopping at railroad crossings when a train approaches was the lesson "Idaho Operation Lifesaver" wanted motorists to learn. Motorist safety was first and foremost as Union Pacific (UP) conducted "Officer On A Train" last Friday.
"We're only trying to save their life," said Patrolman Akilah Lacy of the Pocatello Police Department.
During the "Officer On A Train" enforcement effort, one officer is placed in the lead locomotive of a train as a spotter. This officer observed traffic approaching the highway rail intersections as the train proceeded down the tracks.
Other officers pacde the train or were packed at specific locations. When a motorist was observed violating the laws pertaining to the approaching intersection, the officer on the train radioed one of the chase cars. An officer in the chase car stopped the motorist, explained the dangers and issued a citation.
In Pocatello on Friday, one person received a citation for running a railroad signal and then was arrested on an outstanding warrant.
The purpose of this enforcement operation is to increase public awareness of the potential dangers that exist at highway railroad intersections and eliminate driver actions that can have tragic consequences by enforcing the traffic laws that pertain to these intersections, railroad officials said.
The enforcement program is one of three parts of the Operation Lifesaver effort which include engineering and education. The goal is to eliminate car-train collisions.
A train engine weighs 416,000 pounds. That equals 208 tons. The engine is 20 feet tall, about the height of a two-story building.
The weight difference between a train engine and a car is about the same as a car to an empty beer can, said UP engineer Jim Underwood.
The length of time it takes to stop a train depends on the tonnage it is carrying, said Underwood. It can take at least a mile for a train carrying 10,000 tons to come to stop.
Whenever there is car train collision, it really affects the crew, said Kim Davids, state director of Idaho Operation Lifesaver.
Of the three-man Union Pacific crew that took part in the exercise Friday, each knew exactly where and the collision occurred.
In 40 years as an engineer, Underwood has been involved in 18 collisions—13 cars and five semis.
Davids and conductor Don Burns have each been with UP for 39 years.
In that time, Davids has been in 16 collisions—15 cars and one semi.
Burns has been in over 11 collisions, five of them fatalities.
Before "Idaho Operation Lifesaver" got underway, the average of car train collisions in Idaho was every four days, said Davids. Now, the collision average has been extended to a month and seven days in Idaho.
"When you hit a car, everything goes into slow motion," Underwood said. "It seems like it takes forever to get the train stopped."
Since 1990, the "Officer On A Train" and "Adopt A Crossing" programs have been instrumental in helping reduce the number of car train collisions in the state.