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Scofflaws risking lives

October 28, 2011
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Several people didn't want to wait for the train Thursday.

As another sweep of Union Pacific's "Operation: Lifesaver" came through the area, 11 citations were issued in Martin County, and more were handed out in Blue Earth on Thursday morning.

"There were eight issued in town, in Fairmont," said Fairmont police officer Bryan Boltjes. "Then we had three that were in the Welcome area, so that was 11 citations in two and a half hours."

Article Photos

TORN?IN?TWO?— This 2007 file photo of a semi-trailer truck and train collision along County Road 39 in Fairmont is a reminder of the power of a moving train and the severe damage it can cause to any vehicle.

Along with Fairmont Police, the Minnesota State Patrol, Martin County Sheriff's Office and Sherburn-Welcome Police Department assisted with enforcement.

"This was my second time, being up in the locomotive," Boltjes said. "And there were a couple of times today, I saw things that made me say, 'I can't believe I just saw that!'"

One violator at the North State Street crossing ran the flashing lights and ignored the train whistle, crossing when the train was at most 150 to 200 feet away.

"If we had been pulling a loaded train, there's no way that could've been stopped. That vehicle would have been hit," Boltjes said.

Another incident at the Highway 263 crossing in Welcome saw a vehicle pull around two vehicles already stopped for the crossing and blindly fly across the tracks.

"There was a pickup with an enclosed trailer, then a semi-trailer behind it, and they were both stopped," explained Deputy Chad Petschke. "This other vehicle, still going 40 mph proceeded to blindly pass both these stopped vehicles and cross a solid yellow line to pass and go through the tracks. I firmly believe that would have been a fatality for sure if there had been a collision. And when this vehicle was stopped and cited, the driver was angry with us. All three of us in the locomotive compartment were just like, 'Did we really just see that?'"

There was another incident from the Blue Earth operation in which a vehicle went around the gates as they lowered. The driver was cited for the violation plus driving without a license. A half-hour later, the same driver ran another crossing and was cited again.

These blatant violations are nothing new to the train engineers.

"What this exercise does is it gets the talk going," said Dirk Petersen, manager of operating practices for the regional unit of Union Pacific. "It opens the eyes of the police. They're seeing there are some vehicles that are failing to stop for any stop signs. It's giving them an education, and we appreciate them getting involved. We do these operations all around our service unit annually."

The engineer driving the locomotive Thursday was the same one involved in a train-semi crash at the County Road 39 crossing in 2007.

"That was a crash that I responded to and worked," Boltjes recalled. "These are the things that engineers see every day, not just when we're there. This is an everyday occurrence."

Both Union Pacific and police hope those cited will realize the importance of obeying railroad crossing rules.

"Today, it's a ticket, but next time it could be far more serious," Petersen said.

Minnesota law states that if a moving train approaching a railroad grade crossing is visible from the crossing, that is considered evidence that it is not safe to proceed.

"A ticket is minor compared to your life, the life of a loved one, or a life-altering injury," Petersen said. "These intersections are usually only blocked for a couple of minutes. Is there anything really that important that it's worth the risk?"



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