SCHUYLER — Daniel Sayler II has seen the danger firsthand when motorists try to speed across railroad tracks to beat an oncoming train.
During his 10-year career as a brakeman for Union Pacific Railroad, he has witnessed vehicles getting struck by a train four times.
“You never want to hit anybody. It’s a risk they take. It’s their choice, not ours,” Sayler said of drivers who attempt to cross tracks when a train is approaching.
In an effort to promote public safety, Union Pacific welcomed law enforcement officers to ride along in a locomotive Wednesday to observe motorists at highway-railroad crossings through its Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety, or UP CARES, Program.
During the Schuyler event, members of the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office road along in the cabs of two engines for about 30 minutes. They were able to watch motorists and pedestrians at crossings as the engines went back and forth several times about half a mile east of Schuyler then west to Cargill.
The need for such safety programs was perhaps best noted by Union Pacific employees, who said children were playing on the tracks as they traveled from Columbus to Schuyler for the event.
While no such activity was present during the safety program, there have been accidents in Colfax County involving trains colliding with vehicles or pedestrians, said Sheriff Paul Kruse.
He cited a couple of intentional incidents, one involving a vehicle and another a pedestrian, in recent years. There have also been accidents where those involved simply weren’t paying attention or ignored the crossing signals.
Within Colfax County, Schuyler is the most common area where law enforcement can crack down on those who dismiss crossing arms and warning lights.
“Where there are crossing arms, it helps us out. We know the arms are down and (the drivers) go around the arms. We can write them up,” Kruse said.
Public education and awareness must be having an impact in the county, because Kruse said they are not seeing as many violators and are issuing fewer tickets.
“You still get certain ones that are running late and they think they can beat the train,” he said.
In 2014, there were 63 accidents involving trains resulting in seven deaths in Nebraska, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Most recently in the Schuyler area, a car was struck in November by a Union Pacific train near Rogers. In October, two motorists attempted to drive around a barricade in Columbus and got their vehicles stuck on the tracks. One of those vehicles was struck by an oncoming train.
Union Pacific stresses a "stop, listen and look" approach at crossings. Motorists should assume a train is coming if the crossing arms are down and lights are flashing. Drivers aren’t the only ones who need to pay attention to crossing arms. Pedestrians should never go around arms and should only cross tracks at pedestrian crossings.
Because of the rate of speed and amount of weight being pulled, it can be too late for a train to stop when an engineer sees a person or vehicle on the tracks. It can take more than a mile for a train to stop if it's traveling 55 miles per hour or faster.
Sayler puts it this way when asked what motorists should know about tempting fate with a train: The train is going to win.