CalTrain cites over 100 rail-crossing dodgers

Impatient drivers looking to save a few minutes by dodging under railroad crossing arms saw red when they were pulled over and cited by police as part of a Caltrain safety blitz of recent days.

More than 110 citations were handed out along the Caltrain tracks Wednesday and Thursday as part of the agency’s annual May rail safety efforts. The blitz was held in coordination with similar railroad safety programs promoted across the country by the national nonprofit Operation Lifesaver, said Caltrain spokeswoman Janet McGovern.

A total of 104 rail-crossing citations — for violations ranging from vehicles stopping on the tracks and a vehicle or pedestrian failing to yield when the warning lights went on, to a driver maneuvering around the lowered safety arms — were written over the two-day period, said Capt. Jim Martino, an Amtrak police officer assigned to Caltrain transit police. Another 14 tickets were issued for “other” reasons, he said, and 17 warnings were handed out.

Martino said he expects those numbers to climb in coming days because only half of the 25 participating police agencies have reported so far.

The ticketing spree is part of ongoing crackdown efforts aimed at illegal and often dangerous behavior along the tracks, McGovern said. The heightened enforcement efforts come after 17 people — tied for the most since 1995 — died on Caltrain tracks in 2006.

This year three pedestrians have been killed on the tracks after being hit by trains, down from eight by the same time a year ago.

Ticketing, outreach to schools and the general public and capital improvements — including new pedestrian crossing arms, medians and fencing — are all part of a three-pronged approach to improving safety, Martino said.

Caltrain says it has set aside $7.2 million over the next three years to improve rail safety in the county.

While he hopes drivers, pedestrians and others crossing the tracks think twice before acting, the blitz was as much about educating police in the various cities from San Francisco to Gilroy on the law surrounding train tracks so that they will continue heightened enforcement on their own, Martino said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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