St. Landry Parish, La — St. Landry Parish law enforcement officers rode the rails Monday to write 22 citations for railroad-crossing violations as part of a safety exercise organized by Operation Lifesaver Union Pacific C.A.R.E. (Crossing Accident Reduction Education).
Participating in this event was Eunice Police Department, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and Union Pacific Railroad Police.
As the 2,000-horsepower Union Pacific locomotive lumbered along its tracks Thursday, some drivers tried to beat the train. They didn't realize police officers were waiting. A lookout officer was inside the locomotive, looking for drivers who crossed the tracks while railroad crossing lights were still active, or who tried to navigate around the crossing gates.
Major Eddie Thibodeaux with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office said, “We started conducting this exercise about six years ago and we have seen a significant drop in citations issued. Years ago, we would write well over 50 citations in one day. Now, 6 years later, we are writing less than 25. This means drivers are more cautious of the railroad crossings.”
Thibodeaux stated, “One of the citations issued today was to a bus driver who failed to open his door while crossing the tracks. It is a requirement that the driver of any school bus, after coming to a complete stop, shall open the door of the school bus and leave it open while ascertaining that no train or other vehicle is approaching on the railroad track from either side and until immediately prior to proceeding over the railroad crossing.”
"There are thousands of people killed every year because they tried to beat the train, or just weren’t paying attention. Any wreck or accident that takes place at a crossing is preventable," Thibodeaux added.
According to state law, the driver of a vehicle shall slow down to a speed reasonable for existing conditions, or shall stop if necessary before entering the intersection. After having listen and looked, the driver shall yield the right of way to any approaching train and then shall proceed only upon exercising due care and upon being sure that it is safe to proceed. The law also prohibits any person to walk on the tracks or railroad property. The penalty for the violation ranges from $200 or 30 days in jail on the first violation. The second violation is not more $500 or not more than 90 days and required to attend a court approved driver improvement course. The agents all agree that citations are costly but the cost of human life is greater. The track speeds range from 50 MPH to 60 MPH in the rural areas and noted that trains cannot stop as quickly as vehicles can.