UP, El Dorado police patrol for unsafe behavior
By Kaitlyn Rigdon
The Union Pacific Railroad Police Department worked with the local police Wednesday to conduct a railroad crossing safety operation, where several people received written warnings and citations.
The operation is part of Union Pacific’s Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety (UP CARES) program, which brings together communities in a collaborative effort to promote railroad crossing and pedestrian safety.
Jesse Proffitt, special agent with the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department, said that when performing this program, they are looking for unsafe behavior by drivers and pedestrians at railroad crossings that fail to stop for the flashing lights or who drive around the gates.
“We try to contact as many drivers as we can and reinforce the importance of safe behaviors around railroad crossings,” Proffitt said. “The No. 1 thing we want people to take away from what we did (Wednesday) is to approach every crossing ready to stop and to treat it like any other intersection because a train can’t stop on a dime like most vehicles can.”
Proffitt said he didn’t know exactly how many people were stopped during the operation, “but we did contact several violators.”
“There were some warnings issued and some citations issued,” he said.
Proffitt also said they were looking for trespassers on the railroad tracks.
“A lot of people don’t know that tracks are private property and even just walking down the tracks or across the tracks, somewhere you’re not authorized to, is a criminal offense,” he said. “It’s not a serious criminal violation, but it’s a big safety hazard … That’s our No. 1 thing, trying to keep people out of harm’s way.”
To conduct the stops, the locomotive on the tracks traveled through El Dorado several times, crossing over tracks at Main, Faulkner and Champagnolle roads. As the train crossed the tracks, violators were pulled over by the railroad police or the El Dorado Police Department and written warnings or citations.
According to Arkansas Code titled “Obedience to signals at crossings required,” whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing, the driver of the vehicle shall stop within 50 feet, but not less than 15 feet, from the nearest rail of such railroad and shall not proceed until they can do so safely.
This code applies when a clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train; a crossing gate is lowered or a human flagman gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train; an approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the crossing.
The code also states that no one should drive through, around or under any crossing gates or barrier at a railroad crossing while the gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.
Other laws according to Arkansas Code include that drivers of any motor vehicle carrying passengers for hire, or of any school bus carrying any school child or any vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as cargo, must stop the vehicle within 50 feet of the railroad tracks.
While stopped, the driver must listen and look both directions before proceeding.
Proffitt said the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department functions like any other police department, but their jurisdiction is solely the railroads.
Locomotive engineer Brian Phillips said he sees people being unsafe at railroad crossings a lot.
“We have at least one close call pretty much every day,” Phillips said. “On this track, we’re not running very fast, but we get within inches of people pretty much every day.”
Phillips began working as a maintenance worker on trains 23 years ago and has been an engineer for almost 15 years.
On Sept. 22, a car was hit by a train at the Faulkner railroad crossing. Phillips was not the engineer for that train, and officials reported no fatalities from the accident. The driver of the vehicle was taken to receive medical assistance.
Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.