The piercing whistle from a Metrolink train roaring through the railroad crossing at Wolfskill and Truman streets was a reminder of how often the trains run through the City of San Fernando.
And Metrolink, city and law enforcement officials were busy on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in nearby Cesar Chávez Memorial Park reminding the public what dangerous places the crossings can be when approached by distracted or careless motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
This specific railroad crossing to was used message across about railway safety because it has been the scene of horrific accidents, including one last year where a truck was stopped on the tracks where “it dwelled there for close to 10 minutes, and nobody called Metrolink or 9-1-1,” said Metrolink CEO Art Leahy.
The truck was struck a train and dragged down the track. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
The general speed of trains entering a railroad crossing is 80 miles per hour.
“At Metrolink, we have way too many accidents at crossings like the one behind us,” Leahy said.
Metrolink isn’t the only railroad company that use the tracks here. Southern Pacific trains also travel through here and other parts of the Northeast Valley.
“If you’re in a car and stuck on the tracks, the first thing is to get out of the car. The second thing to do is call so we can get the train stopped,” Leahy said.
Capt. Andy Rosso of the LA County Sheriff’s Department noted there were 24 officers and deputies working railway crossing enforcement operations Wednesday in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.
So far that morning, 34 citations had been written for various vehicle code violations and trespassing, Rosso said.
The vehicle code fines could range from $200 to $500. And trespassing on the railroad tracks is a misdemeanor, the captain said.
“Many drivers, pedestrians and the like were unaware of the laws leading to railroad grade crossings,” Rosso said. “It’s an important fact for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists to remember that you must stop at the limit line of a rail crossing when you see the lights flashing and gate arms moving, or hear warning devices sounding.”
Never stop on railroad tracks “no matter what,” Rosso added.
San Fernando Councilmember Sylvia Ballin recalled witnessing an accident between a train and a car.
“I was waiting to exit at Sylmar when I heard the crackling of bones [followed by] the smell of flesh,” Ballin said. “It’s happened far too often. And besides asking the public to call 9-1-1 (for stopped vehicles) we should also have signage that says ‘call 9-1-1’ if you’re stuck on the tracks.”
Nancy Sheehan, state coordinator for the nonprofit California Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to ending collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad rights of way in the State of California,” also provided some grim statistics related to railroad crossing accidents.
Over the past five years statewide, Sheehan said, there have been 667 grade crossing incidents resulting in 151 fatalities and 423 injuries. There were also 614 trespass casualties that resulted in 346 fatalities and 245 injuries.
“The total number of fatalities…was 497,” Sheehan said. “That is 497 too many.”
She went to say that California ranks first nationally in trespass casualties and second in grade crossing incidents. “We also rank number one in fatalities for both trespass and grade cross. These are statistics that we have to change,” Sheehan said.
Safety Tips for Being Around or At a Railroad Crossing
∆ The only safe place to cross railroad tracks is at a public crossing designated for public crossing.
∆ Expect a train to come at any time.
∆ Don’t be distracted by conversation, phones or loud music. Trains are quieter than you think.
∆ Never race a train to a crossing by foot, bicycle or car.
∆ Walking on or playing around train tracks by legal definition is trespassing.
∆ By the time an engineer can see a pedestrian or vehicle on the tracks without any prior warning, it can be too late. •• It can take train moving at top speed more than a mile to completely stop.
∆ If your vehicle becomes stopped on tracks, get out and call 9-1-1 or the number on the emergency notification sign by the crossing.