Police target illegal railroad-crossings

SAN GABRIEL, Calif. "We see it every day: Guy will go around the gates and they'll be looking right at us, eye to eye," said Union Pacific engineer Kent Richards. "The eye-to-eye contact is the toughest for most of the employees on the railroad." Richards has been with Union Pacific since 1995.

It's a stark reality for engineers that traverse Southern California railroads.

When drivers and pedestrians ignore the crossing arms and flashing lights at railroad crossings, Richards knows all too well that the results can be devastating.

"I've hit two pedestrians -- killed them," said Richards. "And I've hit six cars in 15 years."

In an effort to cut down on deaths and accidents, railroad police and local police agencies conduct routine sting operations targeting railroad crossings.

As the camera rolled, one driver decided to drive around the crossing arms, even as the 400-ton locomotives are barreling down the tracks.

"My last couple times I've hit people, I knew they were going to go around the gate," said Richards. "We knew it was going to happen. With experience, you can tell what the person's going to do."

Union Pacific police and San Gabriel police cited a number of drivers and pedestrians Wednesday in an operation meant to educate the public on the dangers of railway crossings.

"When we pull them over for driving around the gates, we also cite them for going on the wrong side of the roads, so that's a good citation there," said Monterey Park Police Detective Frank Duke. "Hopefully they'll learn from that. What I told the public is that a train's coming, you see the gate arm is down, just wait the two, three minutes it takes the train to pass. It's not worth your life."

This kind of sting operation happens at least once a month throughout Southern California, where dense urban populations share busy roadways with freight and passenger trains.

It's a misdemeanor citation, but often police are surprised by who they stop alongside the train tracks.

"Out of the five that we've just seen, I was just advised that one of the subjects has a $30,000 traffic warrant," said Union Pacific Railroad Police Officer Jorge O. Villaescusa.

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