Police crack down on crossing violations

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 22, 2010



LAPLACE – State and local authorities hope an aggressive railroad crossing safety enforcement exercise performed Tuesday might lead motorists to think twice when approaching train tracks.

For the second straight year, Louisiana State Police joined together with sheriff’s offices in St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes and police departments in Lutcher and Gramercy to monitor more than 40 rail crossings within the three parishes. State Police Master Trooper Chris Maurin, who coordinated the enforcement detail, said troopers and deputies on the ground were on the lookout for motorists who blatantly disobeyed traffic rules around railroad tracks. Troopers coordinated with the railroad companies and placed a trooper on an engine that rode the tracks between Jefferson and St. James Parishes.

“We stopped drivers that disregarded warning lights, failed to stop at posted stop signs at the tracks and also those bold enough to swerve around lowered gates,” said Maurin. “Many people just don’t realize the dangers that surround crossings.”

Authorities spent the better part of Tuesday afternoon monitoring the crossings on the east and west banks of the parishes, but they were not just looking for traffic rule breakers. Morris Evans, a special agent for Canadian National Railway, said part of the detail was to inform all motorists of what to look for when approaching a railroad crossing.

“It is an opportunity to spread some awareness and encourage a little more attention near rail crossings,” Morris said. “We are out to save lives, not write tickets.”

According to figures provided by State Police, 11 people lost their lives in 2009 as a result of railroad related accidents in Louisiana. The state currently ranks sixth in the nation for fatal crashes, and Maurin said this campaign aims to eliminate the statistic completely.

“Zero accidents, zero injuries, zero fatalities,” Maurin said. “That is what we are looking to accomplish with this enforcement exercise. That is what we are working toward.”

Trooper Melissa Matey, a spokeswoman for State Police Troop B, said officers issued a total of 328 citations during the enforcement detail, which ran from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday. She said 140 were for railroad violations, 106 were for improper seatbelt use or child restraint issues and another 83 were for assorted traffic violations. She also said many motorists received verbal warnings and no citations.

“There seemed to be a lot more caution around these crossings,” Matey said.

Maurin said police departments throughout the state regularly get calls from train conductors who see drivers pass right in front of trains that are only a few feet away from intersections. He said most drivers just don’t realize how far away a train might be or how fast it is traveling.

“The size of some trains create an optical illusion affect which makes the train appear as though it is moving slower than it actually is,” Maurin said. “The average train traveling 55 mph will need a mile of track to come to a complete stop, and that is usually not enough time to avoid a collision. We live in a state with miles of railroads and hundreds of crossings. This is important information that could save countless lives.”

When approaching a railroad intersection, State Police suggest drivers always stop their vehicle, look to see if a train is coming, listen for the horn or whistle warning and obey all railroad warning devices.