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LEHI -- Every day, drivers make the potentially deadly decision to dart across railroad tracks to beat a train. Operation Lifesaver Utah wants all of us to think of safety first whenever we approach tracks.
The organization says a person or vehicle is hit by a train every two minutes in the United States. When you consider the expansion of light-rail and commuter rail along the Wasatch Front, we all face more crossings today than at any time in our lives.
"I've had 50 to 100 near misses from people going around gates," said Jerott Argyle, who has worked as a Union Pacific locomotive engineer for 17 years.Argyle feels lucky he's hit only one car, and nobody died in that crash. "Just because you don't see a train every hour, doesn't mean there's not a train coming down those rails," Argyle said. "We'd like them to know: Stop! When you see those lights go on, they're there for a reason."
Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver took KSL 5 News for a ride in Lehi so we could see the risks drivers take. We spotted dozens of cars crossing against the lights. Utah County sheriff's deputies were also in the area to ticket drivers who broke the law.
"When you've got a 12 million-pound freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour, it takes more than a mile to stop," said Vern Keeslar, state coordinator of Operation Lifesaver.
Consider this: the weight ratio of an automobile to a train is about the same as a soda can to an automobile--the train has the right of way 100 percent of the time.In 35 years, Operation Lifesaver has has helped cut the number of train-car collisions across the country and in Utah. In 1976, 100 Utah train-car collisions killed a dozen people and injured 37. In 2007, train-car collisions fell to 15; no one was killed, and six people were injured.
"If you see a train coming down the line, don't take that risk. And go across that crossing. Wait. It's worth five minutes to wait," Keeslar said.
Operation Lifesaver aims for even more success with safety. Despite the reduction in collisions in recent years, Federal Railroad Administration statistics for 2007 show that 1,325 people were killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions and there were 879 pedestrian-rail trespass deaths or injuries occurred nationwide. So, there's still awareness and education to accomplish.
Fines for breaking the crossing laws in Utah range from $100 to $500, depending on the county.