Chico, Calif. – The week of Sept. 23-29 is “Rail Safety Week” across the United States and Canada.
Tuesday, Sept. 25, law enforcement around the country and locally, is stepping up patrols on and around rail crossings.
What is known as “Operation Clear Track” is about both enforcement and education. In recent weeks, area police have responded to two train-related fatal accidents.
On August 17, Redding Police responded to a train versus pedestrian accident. One man was killed.
The next day, Chico Police investigated a similar situation. Rescue crews pulled a man from the mangled wreckage of a car that had crossed paths with an oncoming train.
Chico Police Sergeant Todd Lefkowitz says the person killed in the incident has tried to go around the arms of a downed crossing guard. He says taking such an illegal action can be a fatal decision.
Having been called to scenes like this over the years, Sergeant Lefkowitz says, “It is horrific, it’s grotesque, it’s sad and that is what we want to move away from.”
Operation Clear Track is a partnership between Amtrak, Operation Lifesaver, which is the largest rail safety organization in the United States and law enforcement agencies. The goal is to increase awareness of train safety and help save lives.
Sergeant Lefkowitz says reducing injuries and death is directly related to education and understanding the laws. He says many people are not aware that when the sound of the bells starts and lights begin flashing, that is when you are supposed to stop. He says many motorists, bicyclist and pedestrians, will try to go around an already lowered guard arm, which is not only dangerous but illegal. It is a misdemeanor charge that could carry up to a $200 dollar fine. But more than the money, Sgt. Lefkowitz says you could lose your life.
According to Operation Lifesaver, California has the highest rate of grade-crossing fatalities in the nation; 38 in 2017.
In Chico alone, since 2015, police report eight train-related incidents. Some involved suicide while others were deemed accidents. Six of those incidents ended in death.
Sergeant Lefkowitz says another illegal practice he often sees, is pedestrian cutting through chain-link fencing around railroad tracks, in order to create their own pathway. It is a practice he says can quickly become deadly.
Chico police will be located at various rail crossings in the city from 12 - 3 p.m. The primary goal of a police presence is awareness and education but officers will be enforcing the laws.
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