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RAIL OFFICIALS FEEL CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

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Railroad officials believe they usually end up in "no-win" situations despite their efforts to improve safety and at the same time decrease the inconvenience and waiting time for trains.

"No matter what we do, we're wrong," R.H. "Dick" Rauschmeier, public projects manager for Union Pacific railroad said during a recent special safety-related meeting at Clearfield City Hall.For example, he said Union Pacific recently installed constant warning signals at a busy railroad crossing in North Salt Lake so the crossing arms would not come down until a train was 25 seconds away. Although this means less waiting time for drivers at the crossing, now the railroad is receiving complaints that some drivers feel the shortened time is unsafe.

Rauschmeier is keen on educating the public about safety.

"Focus on the schoolkids," he said about the solution for increasing safety at railroad crossings. He strongly supports the "Operation Lifesaver" program in the schools.

He said there are only two legal ways a driver can go around a crossing with its gates down: if a railroad employee directs you across or if a law enforcement officer motions you to cross.

Rauschmeier said that enforcement of bans on going through a crossing with its gates down is on the upswing.

One way to help decrease such law-breaking at dangerous crossings such as Clearfield's 200 South, said Rauschmeier, is to have police fill out routine reports in their cars while parked near railroad crossings.

Union Pacific Railroad Senior Special Agent J.L. "Jerry" Jensen said trespass and pedestrian fatalities now outnumber car-train accidents nationally.

"It's an issue of keeping people off that right of way," Jensen said. "It's usually youth (offenders)."

With the growing population of the Wasatch Front, the railroad expects trespassing to be an increasing problem.

Union Pacific officials said they can't lengthen crossing arms, as some people suggest, to stop lawbreakers. The longer arms could conceivably trap a vehicle on the tracks in between the arms, and statistics say most people will sit there and get hit by a train rather than crash though the barriers.

Rauschmeier said one state is currently testing using alternative barriers, like those used on aircraft carriers, to bounce vehicles back that try to cross railroad tracks illegally.

Railroad officials say there are a variety of reasons that trains block intersections for long periods of time. They suggest writing down a railroad car's number and giving it to local law enforcement officials to check on the reasons for delays.

Rauschmeier said train speeds within city limits are governed by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Railroad officials also want cities along the Wasatch Front to ensure that the proper warning signs are in place along the roads leading to railroad crossings.

Utah has some 1,300 railroad crossings. Only 250 have lights/barriers. Railroad crossing lights cost $250,000, and with only $1.2 million in funds each year for new crossing lights, Union Pacific doesn't have the funds to improve them all now.