Railroad staff host safety workshop

Union Pacific Railroad staff hosted a safety workshop for local law enforcement Tuesday at the Tucumcari Train Depot.

QCS photos: Thomas Garcia

Officers of the Department of Public Safety's Motor Transportation Division board a train as part of the Union Pacific safety training held Tuesday at the Tucumcari Train Depot.

"We want to give the local law enforcement an idea of how things operate from our direction," said Terry Givens, the railroad's spokesman for Operation Lifesaver.

Givens was the presenter of the Union Pacific Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety (UPCARES). The program is a public safety initiative to promote railroad grade crossing and pedestrian safety.

Givens said UPCARES is another channel that Union Pacific uses to try and make the public aware of the importance of proper crossing and the dangers of trespassing on railroad property. He said many people don't know just how large the trains are and the fact it takes a train a half mile to two miles to stop.

Givens said people walk on or across the tracks thinking it's a quick shortcut or they can get out of the way before they are in any danger. He said some are distracted by listening to music or in some cases they are actually playing chicken with the train.

Givens said when a person is on the tracks, the conductor must put the train into emergency mode, which activates the brakes. He said depending on the size of the train, speed and cargo content, there is a danger of derailment.

"Someone could think it's cool or be completing a dare," Givens said. "Though they don't take into consideration the dire consequences."

There have been problems with people crossing the railroad tracks in Tucumcari. There have been people struck by trains in the past five years, one of which was a fatality, said Leo Marquez, UP senior special agent.

Marquez said people need to understand that they are trespassing when they are on the railroad tracks. He said more importantly they need to be made aware of the dangers of being on those tracks.

Givens said Union Pacific started railroad safety awareness programs in 1972 (operation lifesaver) when there was an incident on the railroad tracks every 15 minutes in the U.S. He said to date, the statistics have been reduced to an incident every three hours.

Givens said 2011 statistics show there were six fatalities in New Mexico involving a train. He said in the last three months there have been three incidents with two injuries. He said people still try to beat the train by driving through the crossing guards.

"Our conductors and engineers see it every day," Givens said. "They approach the crossing and see someone driving across or walking trying to beat the train and all they can do is watch."

"It gave me a whole new perspective," said Rodney Bone, who works for the Motor Transportation Division in San Jon.

Bone said he did not realize how fast the trains travel and just how much they extend out from the tracks.

Givens said the crossings are there for the public's safety, while it may seem like they are holding you up they are actually keeping you alive.

"It takes a train about two minutes to pass through a crossing," Givens said. "Give us two minutes and we'll give you your life."

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