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Operation Lifesaver

Operation Lifesaver "officer-on-a-train"

November 19th 2003

Story and photographs by Richard Elgenson
 RailNewsNetwork staff writer

West end of Operation Lifesaver train    Metrolink Locomotive 800 leads train to Industry

On Tuesday November 18 2003 I received a phone call from my contact at Metrolink.  They were going to be running an Operation Lifesaver “officer-on-a-train” exercise on the Metrolink Riverside line the very next day.  I was invited to participate and directed to meet at the Metrolink City of Industry station at 9:00 am.


Operation Lifesaver, is a national, non-profit education and awareness program dedicated to ending tragic collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad rights-of-way.  Operation Lifesaver promotes the principles of the three E’s, therefore education, such as giving presentations to school children, professional and student drivers, engineering, inventing of newer and safer warning devices at highway-rail grade crossings and enforcement which is what “officer-on-a-train” is about. 


Law enforcement officers ride in the locomotive cab to see what train crews see every day.  Other officers are posted at the highway-rail grade crossings that the Operation Lifesaver train encounters to enforce the laws.  Law enforcement takes their experience with them long after the train leaves.  Railroading is dangerous enough without pedestrians and motorists trying to run a crossing, encroaching or trespassing on railroad property.  Operation Lifesaver is a cooperative effort between local and national railroads-both freight and passenger, and government agencies.  There were representatives from Metrolink, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, law enforcement, and Operation Lifesaver.  The catch phrase of Operation Lifesaver is “Look, Listen, Live!”


The first thing I noticed at the Metrolink City of Industry station was that every one of the 730 parking spaces was occupied.  There is a large expansion project of this parking lot which includes an entry which is separated from the railroad by an underpass.  I checked in with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Officer Steve Smith, the Metrolink Sheriff.  He introduced me to other participants from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Union Pacific Railroad Police and California Highway Patrol.  I also visited with Metrolink Rail Safety members Jesus Ojeda and Tracy Berge.  Also in attendance for this exercise was Jim McInerney from the California State Public Utilities Commission which has jurisdiction over highway-rail grade crossings.


Earlier in the morning Sheriff Steve Smith had briefed his troops and they had already patroled the five highway-rail grade crossings from the station to the west.  Crossings involved in this exercise included Brea Canyon Road, Lemon Street, Fairway Drive, Nogales Street and Fullerton Road.  By 9:00 am the troops had already given out at least 5 citations.  Our train was to operate from 10 am to 12:30 pm, which is the time that our track authority was to expire.  This meant that for 2 ½ hours we were in control of the north main track on the Metrolink Riverside Line.  Operation Lifesaver had a table set up with literature and a few other handouts such as key chains and buttons.  One button that I picked up will be shipped to a friend in Alaska to become part of his impressive railroad button collection.


9:45 am our train was in view about a mile down the track.  Sheriff Smith raised his hand, put it on top of his head and announced “hot rail” to warn everybody that the train was imminent.  At 9:48 the train pulled into the station.  This impressive train included Metrolink number 800, an ex-Amtrak F40 locomotive, the beautiful “Silver Lariat” passenger dome car, Burlington Northern Santa Fe GE AC4400 number 4341, Amtrak F59 PHI number 464 and the brand new Union Pacific GE AC4400 number 6003.  After the train pulled into the station and most of the non law enforcement participants entered the Silver Lariat, I was assigned to be on the head end of the train at all times when the train was moving.  Along with the Union Pacific train crew, the head end personnel included Sheriff Smith, CHP Lt. Chuck Geletko, another LASD Deputy John Almeda, another member of the press and myself.  We boarded UP 6003 at 10:01 am.


The area we were going to patrol is a double mainline track with 65 mph permissible speed.  However in order for us to attain such a speed, the train first had to be backed up to the east approximately ¼ mile to pass and reset a signal where the railroad converges a single main line.  An interesting note would be that Metrolink had a conductor and engineer aboard the train too.  Their engineer occupied “SCAX 800” when we were in reverse mode.  At 10:11 we received our green signal to proceed westbound and Conductor Bob Corbett gave the announcement “highball” which means proceed forward.  Engineer Angel Velazquez started the train westbound for the first of our two runs.  This run was uneventful but conductor Bob Corbett pointed out that a distant crossing west of the Operation Lifesaver area has had at least one suicide. 

"Officer-on-a-Train" continued

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