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Law enforcement work to prevent train collisions

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Idaho State Police say they are seeing more close calls when it comes to car and train collisions. 

Thursday, Idaho State Police teamed up with city, county law enforcement, Union Pacific and Eastern Idaho Railroad this for Operation Lifesaver, a campaign to educate motorists on laws designed to keep them safe at railroad crossings. 

“We’e are targeting the most vagrant offenders because those are the ones that are causing our crashes,” said Idaho State Police Lt. Chris Weadick.

Through what officers call a “Officer on a Train” event, one officer is placed in the lead locomotive of a train as a “spotter”. This officer watches traffic approaching the highway rail intersections as the train proceeds down the tracks. Other officers pace the train or are parked at specific locations so that when a driver enters the intersection before the train clears the tracks, the officer on the train can radio a partner officer, who stops the driver, explain the dangers, and may issue a citation. 

Law enforcement hopes by education drivers and enforcing traffic laws railway crossings will encourage people to be more cautious. 

Idaho State Police have responded to six incidents this year involving collisions at train crossings. 4 of those incidents resulted in injuries, including 1 fatality in Fort Hall.

“The tragedy I’ve seen over the years is just heartbreaking,” said Idaho Operation Lifesaver director Tim Johnson. 

Johnson says he joined Operation Lifesaver after almost 30 years as a state trooper.

“I remember calling up the families of teenagers to tell them they had been in an accident,” Johnson said.

While officers pulled over several drivers who violated railroad crossing laws, they say they are encouraged to see a lot of drivers abiding by those laws.

“We are seeing a lot of motorists that are stopping, they’re waiting. They are honoring the red lights,” said Weadick.

Since 1990, the “Officer On A Train” program has been instrumental in helping reduce the number of car train collisions throughout Idaho. 

In 2000, according to Idaho Operation Lifesaver, there were 33 incidents at Idaho highway rail crossings, with ten fatalities. In 2015, 12 incidents were reported with two deaths.

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