WEST FRANKFORT — A special railroad safety detail yielded only one warning and one citation in West Frankfort Wednesday.
“From a traffic safety perspective, this was a very successful detail,” state trooper Joey Watson said. “We wrote one warning to a pedestrian for trespassing on railroad property and one citation to a driver for not obeying the crossing gates. In the big picture, not writing many tickets means people are obeying the laws and I’m OK with that.”
The detail was part of an UP CARES, or Union Pacific Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety, event.
A locomotive traveled back and forth on the tracks that run through the city’s downtown, while state, West Frankfort and Union Pacific police officers looked for drivers or pedestrians “putting themselves in harm’s way” by, for instance, trespassing on railroad property or going around down crossing gates.
The city has had several train-vehicle and train-pedestrian collisions through the years, West Frankfort Police Chief Shawn Talluto said, and the common denominators are impatience and inattention.
“We’ve seen a number of cars doing u-turns at the tracks today just because people don’t want to wait for a single train car to go by. Everybody’s in a hurry,” Talluto said.
Impatience and inattention can be fatal, especially in Illinois, one of the top railroad states in the nation, Union Pacific’s Michael McGill said.
“Last year, Illinois ranked third in the country for both the number of collisions and number of fatalities,” he said. “There were 125 collisions with 16 fatalities.”
Pedestrians are also at risk.
“There were 488 trespassing fatalities in the United States last year, 26 of them in Illinois,” McGill said.
Railroad tracks have become a popular setting for photographs, and people have died or been gravely injured taking those selfies, he said.
“Railroad tracks, trestles and equipment are private property. Walking, climbing, hunting, riding ATVS, shooting or posing for photos on them is not not only extremely dangerous, it’s illegal,” he said.
McGill said he hopes people take heed of the potential for danger around the tracks.
“We don’t call these accidents. These are choices someone made and they are sometimes fatal,” he said.