The Riverbank News      Wednesday, January 28, 2004  

Railroad crossing safety remains in focus after death of student

During the week after a Riverbank High Scjpp; student was hit and killed by a train while walking home from school, former locomotive engineer Mike McReynolds talked to both local middle school students and Rotarians about staying safe around railroad tracks and crossings..

During the same week, the accident victim Mike Copeland was remembered in an emotional memorial service conducted at the Community Casa by The Bridge pastor Wainer Guimaraes.

"Look, listen and live" was the import of McReynolds presentation to a Cardozo Middle School after-school class. McReynolds is a volunteer in a national, railroad program called "Operation Lifesave?" The program is aimed at preventing deaths and injuries along the tracks.

Speaking with scary bluntness, McReynolds said passenger trains like AmTrak move at speeds up to 80 mph and deliver overwhelming injuries to the human body, while a freight train can crush a passenger car the way a vehicle crushes a soda can.

The train's wheels weigh 1,000 pounds each, and even at low speeds shear through flesh and metal like a pizza cutter.

There isn't even a bump. The train's engineer doesn't even know he's hit anyone, said McReynolds.

"It takes 30 seconds for Amtrak to pass through a crossing. The lights start flashing 15 seconds before it gets there. Is there anything that is so urgent we can't wait 30 seconds at a crossing."

A train cannot swerve like a car to miss someone or something on the tracks. All the engineer can do is apply the emergency brakes knowing they probably can't prevent the collision. A freight train can take over a mile to come to a stop.

McReynolds warned the children against walking along the top of tracks. Railroad employees are forbidden even to put their foot on a track while crossing it. The rails are slippery and so shaped it's very easy to fall off them and break an ankle.

He advised anyone in a vehicle that stalls on the tracks at a crossing, to get out of it, walk well clear of the tracks and call the railroad's emergency number posted at crossings.

"We've had cases where people got out of their vehicle, saw no trains, came back and had their heads under the hood when they were struck and killed by a train," he said.

He also cautioned youths against walking across railroad bridges, such as the one across the Stanislaus River on the north edge of Riverbank. The bridges are only wide enough for the trains. "If you are forced off the trestle, it's a long, dangerous fall to the river," he said.

Railroad workers cannot take chances. They have to call the dispatcher, and trains are halted before they can venture onto a bridge.

Keep well clear of the tracks. McReynolds advised. The rails are only four and half feet apart. But the train itself is close to 10 feet wide, and there have been cases of goods breaking loose and flying off freight trains.

One man sitting in a pickup truck waiting at a crossing was killed, and his companions injured, when a wooden pole came loose from a train and speared their windshield.

Fog is common in the Central Valley, he added. But locomotive engineers do not slow down for the fog, provided they can see the warning lights along the tracks.


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Subj: Senator Boxer on Rail Safety  
Date: 7/24/2003 9:50:17 AM Pacific Daylight Time
Sent from the Internet (Details)

I thought you would be interested in the following message.

Dear Friend: 

Many Californians feel the impact of rail lines every day.  We
cross them on the way to work, wait for trains on the way home,
hear the whistle of trains in the distance.  While trains are
one of the safest modes of transportation, they can also pose
significant hazards.  I am writing to tell you of action the
Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
recently took on two amendments I wrote to make our railway
system safer.  I wanted to let you know about these amendments.

My first amendment addresses the problem of runaway trains.  It
would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to write
regulations to ensure that local police and fire officials are
notified immediately should there be a runaway train in their
community.  The regulations must be written within 120 days.

Last month a terrible accident involving a runaway train
crashing into a neighborhood in Commerce, California alerted me
to the need for this legislation. We were fortunate that no one
was killed as a result of that accident, and even more so
because first responders were never notified of the runaway
train.  The Department of Transportation needs to have a plan
in place for working with local emergency agencies on the
problem of runaway trains, and this legislation will get us
moving on the right path.

My second amendment addresses the problem of severely delayed
traffic at grade crossings  the area where train tracks and
roads intersect.  The amendment directs the Secretary of
Transportation, in consultation with state and local government
officials, to conduct a study of the impact of blocked
highway-rail crossings on the ability of emergency responders
to perform public safety and security duties.  The Secretary
would then report findings and recommendations to the Commerce

In one California community, from January 2001 to January 2003,
trains delayed ambulance and fire protection 84 times.  This
translates into more people at higher risk of dying from health
emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes, as well deadly
fires.  This study will help us determine the impact of grade
crossings in emergency situations, and give us the foundation
for future development of protocols for those situations.

I consider these two measures to be of vital importance for
local communities and will be working to ensure that they
remain in the final bill.  I encourage you to contact me if you
have questions or concerns.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator


For more information on Senator Boxer's record and other
information, please go to:

If you would like to make a comment regarding this or any other
federal matter, please feel free to do so at:

To contact your Representative

California Legislators

Government Guide: Legislative Branch

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"If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons? He's already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons. He poison-gassed his own people. He used poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors. This man has no compunction about killing lots and lots of people."
-- Al Gore, Dec. 16, 1998

hmmm, talks out both sides of his mouth huh?
There is a reason this is here, I just haven't had the time to explain it. Actually, it's not the time, it's the emotions that come with dealing with it.  

I do not endorse Barbara Boxer and did not even vote for her.  Although I've never contacted her concerning rail safety I did other representatives when Ben was killed.  Apparently Senator Mike Machado let others know my concern.  A detailed explanation later. 
Death on tracks treated as unsolvable problem
Deaths at U.S. railroad tracks