By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
Union Pacific Railroad, in cooperation with the Mt. Vernon Police Department, conducted an Operation Lifesaver detail in the city Thursday morning.
The purpose of the exercise is to bring public awareness to reduce the number of crashes, deaths and injuries at highway-rail intersections. It is sponsored cooperatively by federal, state and local government agencies, civic and business organizations, the nation's railroads and other groups interested in highway safety.
The area of concentration Thursday was at the intersections of Illinois Highway 37 and Brownsville Road, south of Veterans Memorial Drive.
Mt. Vernon Police Department issued 12 citations and five warnings for various traffic violations during the three-hour detail.
"The whole goal today was education," said Ray Gilbert of the Mt. Vernon Police Department. "There may have been warnings and citations for something else rather than railroad crossing violations."
"We're trying to raise awareness, to have contact with that individual and let them know what they did may have been wrong, that it may have been a violation and explain to them their responsibility as a driving motorist," said Kevin Dawson, manager of Public Safety for the Union Pacific Railroad. "We're also having officers look out for trespassers. Railroad property is private property. So many people think that's it's open and they can go out to it anytime. We want people to understand it's private property. Stay out, stay off and stay alive."
Dawson said city police departments are an integral part of providing safety details as often as needed to prevent railway collisions.
"We've got a very good cooperative relationship with the Mt. Vernon Police Department. They can make contact with those people who may be in violation and work on changing the normal activities. If a person normally has a propensity to run through the flashing lights, then maybe they can control that."
According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, approximately every three hours a collision occurs between a train and a vehicle or a train and a pedestrian. It takes a freight train traveling at 55 mph 18 football fields to stop, and over 50 percent of the collisions that occur are at crossings with active warning lights.
"The crossings are like a stop sign. You are required by law to stop," said Dawson, "And who pays for those signs and crossings? You, the taxpayer," he added.
Highway-rail crash statistics for 2012 indicate that Illinois had 89 crashes at public crossings. Twenty-five people were killed and another 34 seriously injured. Illinois has over 7,300 miles of track with 7,780 public crossings and 4,536 private crossings. Illinois ranked third in the nation in 2012 in the number of rail crossing collisions with 108 at both public and private crossings. The state had 19 trespass fatalities in 2012 and another 25 injured being on or along railroad tracks or rights of way as trespassers.