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Bold rail-safety statement on track for Placer County

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Deaths on the rail right-of-way are a grim fact of life in Auburn. With two tracks travelling through the city and rural outskirts, the sound of the train horn warning interlopers on or near the tracks to move away is loud and insistent for a reason. During a recent 12-month period, California had 61 deaths to right-of-way trespass – the highest in the nation. In Auburn, a 30-year-old man was struck and killed May 27, 2010, on the tracks near Gum Lane. Authorities call the 4:40 a.m. death an accident. The victim’s blood-alcohol level over twice the level authorities consider as intoxication. On Oct. 12, 2009, a train struck a man who had deliberately walked onto the tracks near Blocker Drive. The train engineer applied the locomotive’s emergency brakes as soon as he saw the man on the tracks. The death was determined to be a suicide by the Placer County coroner. And in August 2007, a man in his 20s died after being struck near the King Road railroad crossing by the Amtrak Chicago Zephyr in Loomis. Auburn is likely to soon have a graphic reminder on the Union Pacific tracks to remind people to “Stay off, stay away, stay alive.” Caltrans and its rail partners have joined together with people affected by rail crossing incidents to decorate two locomotives and mark Rail Safety Month in California. The graphics-wrapped locomotives highlight the importance of safety and vigilance near railroad tracks and honor the memory of individuals affected by rail-crossing incidents. Auburn resident Jodi Barnes said her family enjoys the community’s proximity to the railroad but also makes her two young sons aware of the dangers. “We love trains but we teach our sons the dangers,” Barnes said. “In fact, we taught these guys safety before their ABCs.” Barnes said that she likes the idea of messages on trains and would also like to see more safety instruction in schools. Depending on scheduling, one or both of the locomotives may be in service on the Auburn-to-Roseville Capitol Corridor run over the next year, said Caltrans Division of Rail spokewoman Debbie Mullins. The two wrapped locomotives inscribed with the safety message, “Be Track Smart – Tragedies Touch All of Us,” used more than 200 Caltrans employees’ handprints to create a multi-colored wrap representing the many people who have been touched by rail-crossing incidents. One of the prints belongs to Caltrans employee Frank Ornelaz II, of Fresno, whose father was killed by a train. Caltrans is partnering on the campaign with Amtrak, Capitol Corridor, Operation Lifesaver, Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington and Northern Santa Fe Railway, to showcase locomotives with the safety message along the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner routes. The wrapped locomotives are meant to remind motorists and pedestrians to be vigilant when approaching all railroad crossings and tracks. “Trains are romantic, wonderful but also dangerous,” Mullins said. “With the locomotives out there, we hope it’s a bold enough statement to get people talking. If that saves even one life, then we’ve done our job.” Rail right-of-way rules to remember: - Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property. Walking or playing on them is illegal – trespassers are subject to arrest and fines. - The only legal and safe place to cross tracks is at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings. Observe and obey all warning signs and signals. - Do not walk, jog, hunt, fish or bungee jump on railroad trestles. They are not designed to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges – there is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. - Do not attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost a limb, or your life. Source: Operation Lifesaver