Sacramento agency: Too many distracted pedestrians hit by trains

An RT train arrives at Sacramento’s 16th Street station last April.
An RT train arrives at Sacramento’s 16th Street station last April.

Concerned about the growing number of people hit by trains, Sacramento Regional Transit launched a campaign Wednesday warning pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to focus more on their surroundings and less on their headphones, smartphones and text messaging.

Several distracted pedestrians and cyclists have been killed when they walked or cut in front of light-rail trains in recent months, including a 15-year-old wearing earbuds who crossed the tracks despite warnings from lights and bells.

Those incidents mirror a statewide trend, according to data provided by Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety group. Trains hit 154 people in California last year, nearly 50 percent more than the year before. Those incidents caused 101 deaths and 53 injuries.

“I’d say the majority are distracted people,” said Nancy Sheehan, state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver. “People (are) crossing and not even looking where the train is coming from.”

In Sacramento, the issue is particularly acute because light-rail trains cross intersections, sidewalks and streets hundreds of times each day throughout the region. Dozens of freight trains also cut through midtown Sacramento every day, crossing streets and sidewalks.

Rail safety experts say some pedestrians and drivers have been killed after waiting for a train to pass, then crossing the tracks without realizing another train was arriving on an adjacent track from the other direction.

Train traffic in Sacramento will increase later this year when Regional Transit opens a new 4-mile line between Meadowview Road and Cosumnes River College. The agency will be testing trains on those tracks in the coming weeks.

The RT safety campaign – “See Tracks? Think Train!” – will focus on the Blue Line from Broadway south but will include safety messages throughout the system. RT’s police force will be out warning pedestrians and cyclists and will issue citations for people who break safety rules.

Posters have been put up at stations, showing a person standing on the tracks, head down, looking at his smartphone, with a light-rail train bearing down on him. The caption reads: “Man, 175 pounds of pure human flesh and blood vs. train, 80 tons of solid built American steel. It’s no contest.”

RT General Manager Mike Wiley said people today have become addicted to their cellphones, and some no longer check for trains before crossing tracks. He said his agency is seeing too many people behaving unsafely and illegally around tracks, notably at the Broadway, Fourth Avenue, 47th Avenue and Fruitridge stations. “People just ignore all the warnings, and unfortunately fatalities have occurred.”

“More than ever, many of us have trouble focusing on our surroundings and putting down our cellphones,” he said. “It’s a challenge for all of us; we’ve become addicted to it.”

Train safety advice includes:

▪ Never drive around lowered crossing arm gates.

▪ Never use tracks for walking, jogging or taking shortcuts.

▪ Keep children behind the yellow bump-up pads next to light-rail tracks in stations.

▪ Remember, after a train has passed, a second train may be coming from the opposite direction.

▪ It is prohibited to ride bicycles, skateboards or rollerblades in stations.

▪ Never drive over a crossing unless you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Trains are wider than the tracks.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

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