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Operation Lifesaver "Trucker-on-the-train"

on BNSF and UP in Southern California

June 9, 2011

Story and photographs by Richard Elgenson
RailNewsNetwork writer


Commerce Station is a lightly used Metrolink station east of downtown Los Angeles on the BNSF Railway.  Trains do actually stop there.  I used to stop by and watch trains, and, although it seems like a rough, industrial area, I never had a problem with security or the bad guys.  Some railroaders had been friendly enough to at least engage me in conversation.  The focus of this day's event was really the trucker.  The trucker defined for this event is a human being truck driver in a large vehicle with as many or more than 18 wheels.  A special guest at this event is an Amtrak employee who was, for many years, an Amtrak engineer working passenger trains in Florida.

One thing for sure, if the train had been there, it would have been somewhat quieter.  A number of trains, both passenger and freight flew or rumbled by as the meeting progressed.

The "Trucker-on-the-train" press conference emcee was Ronnie Garcia from BNSF Railway and also Chairperson for the Southern California region Rail Safety Southern California.  Mr. Garcia thanked all who were in attendance at the first annual Trucker-on-the-Train event and explained who makes up the Rail Safety Team..  "Basically what our team consists of are a few of the freight railroads in the area, some passenger railroads and some of the state entities.  (BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, Metrolink, Amtrak, members of law enforcement agencies, California State Public Utilities Commission and others.)  We get together monthly, we talk monthly, bi-monthly, about rail safety issues, rail safety concerns.  And we put togther these functions either monthly or bi-monthly.  We go out into the communities  And what we do is we want to promote safety.  We want to educate people.  Now today's event, is very special, again, it's our first one we have ever done."  The Rail Safety Team has done many "Officer-on-a-Train" events in different areas of Southern California.

Mr. Garcia then introduced the next speaker, Metrolink Safety Chief  Fred Jackson.

"The most important reason why you are here today is the relationships between truck drivers and also trains and train operators.  I speak not on behalf of the locomotive engineers, but through the eyes of a locomotive engineer and dispatchers that actually operate our service throughout the counties we (Metrolink) operate in.  There are a number of near hits, things we refer to as close encounters, where truck drivers and other automobiles are actually becoming close encounters and quing up on the right of way.  So hopefully today you use this time to educate yourself and educate others that these close calls acutally are all potential incidents that may happen.  My job is to analyze data on the railroad, to use that data, to smartly and intelligently  get the word out to all the other folks on where our problem areas may be.  So through a strategy and enterprise view, we actually review our incidents and review our data and then we strategize programs and that's how we came here today, talking aoubt this event.  Truckers are a growing concern for us.  We have a lot of crossings throughout southern California and we have a great number of truck traffic.  So, I encourage all that are here to share the word and pass the word on.  I've networked with a lot of the safety professionals that are out there and I plan to continue that relationship.  And once again, I do welcome you here.  Next, I'm going intoduce Pete Aadland.  Pete is the California Operation Lifesaver State Coordinator and is a good friend of mine.  I've worked with him for a number of years.  And Pete, welcome."


"Ninety five, 95, last year in California, 95 lives were lost around railroad property and grade crossings.  And the most frustrating part about what we do and about those 95 lives, 100%, every one of them, preventable, if only people had obeyed the laws and obeyed the signs.  I'm with California Operation Lifesaver and we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to completely eliminate those 95, you know we have a job to do until all injuries and deaths are completely eliminated.  I'm going to give you one more set of numbers that's kind of appropriate for today.  Last year, in California, there were 124 collisions at grade crossings and that's where trains and vehicles have the potential to meet.  Of  those 124, 11 were tractor trailors and nationally I found this really hard to believe, the average is somewhere between 20 and 24 percent depending upon the state of all incidents at grade crossings are drivers with commmercial drivers licenses.  Now these are significant numbers and even more so when you consider that these incidents with trucks and trains are much more dangerous for the train crews and potentially passengers on passenger trains.  Obviously much more hazarderous than anything out there for truck drivers.  They have a much higher potential for community harms and community impacts and a much higher potential for loss of property.  But with each one of those numbers, there are families, friends, work colleagues, emergency responders...a whole group of people who you don't really think about when you look a number on a piece of paper.   And also for every one of those numbers is a train operator.  There is a Billy Parker, who, you will be hearing about his story shortly.  And when you do from his perspective going through the stories of some of these incidents, it's absolutely chilling..  We're really fortunate and lucky to have Billy here today.  Today's a very unique event.  It's the first one I've ever heard of in the nation, truckers on the train, to give kind of a different perspective to the trucking industry, of so much in common with railroads and the trucking industry of moving freight and goods throughout our nation.  Today's also another special day in that our national OL is releasing for the first time today a new educational tool that was designed with the help of the trucking industry and the railroad industry.  And it's an "e" learning tool and it's called "The Rail Safety Challenge".  Now this is an interactive driving experience where drivers actually navigate, with their mouse, in real world situations, and go on several trips with various loads, and different kinds of railroad grade crossings.  And you actually stop your truck and look both ways.  There's all kinds of different scenarios and signs and stop lines.  It's free of charge and can be found at  (Click on "PRODRIVER E-LEARNING" under QUICKLINKS, upper left hand corner of page.)  We will be out and promoting this and look forward to adding this tool to our toolbox becasue we have volunteers, some of whom are here today, some of our stalwarts.  We do go out and give free presentations to truck drivers and truck driving companies and driving schools.  So, on behalf of those volunteers, I'd really like to thank those of you from the trucking industry for participating today.  And a special thanks for our Rail Safety Team, especially the operational people today... Metrolink, BNSF, UP and Amtrak for making this all possible.  And these railroad partners of ours are kind of the most pro-active group of anybody that I've seen in the industry.  These organizations are totally focused to using their resources to get our ahead of incidents and prevent them and not have to explain them later.  So, with that, I had mentioned Billy Parker and I'm going to hand it over to Mr. Parker.  Billy."


"Thank you Pete and good morning everyone.  My name is Billy Parker   I'm out of Jacksonville Florida with Amtrak as manager of operating rules.  I tell you, I'm proud to be standing here today for a couple of reasons.  Mainly, I look out and I see people from Metrolink, UP, BNSF, the media, professional truck drivers, law enforcement officers,'s what it's all about.  It's a team effort to prevent grade crossing collisions around this country and in the State of California.    We're very pleased to have every one of you here today.  It's a very important event that's taken a lot of work by a lot of people.  If I could just say three things and I'm going to hand it over to John McKuen.  There are three things we really preach with OL.  One is, please, never try to beat a train.   It could be the last race of your life.  Two, any time is train time, day or night in any direction.  And three, obviously, trains cannot stop quickly.  We don't have steering wheels up there.  So, as we go forward today as a team effort to prevent these collisions, let's all see what we can learn.  I've been talking to Scott and Josh from J.B. Hunt a little while ago, and their first comment was "they can't hardly wait".  They're ready to learn something about rail safety.  That's what it's all about.  Thank you all for being here.  Let me introduce the vice president for intermodal operations with J. B. Hunt, Mr. John McKuen.  John, great to have you (here)."

"Once again, I'm John McKuen from J.B. Hunt.  We're happy to be here.  We're talking about railroad safety out here and we take that very seriously.  The two things we want to avoid at all costs are a collision with a locomotive or a train or a school bus.  Those are the two things that we talk about.  But our safety goes well beyond the right-of-ways of the railroad.  We are all over the state of California and we've got 700 drivers dedicated to intermodal pickup and delivery in the state.  And last year we were able to move over million loads.  A lot of our containers would come by.  That was a milestone that we hit last year.  More importantly, we were able to do it safely.  We are always working to get better and better.  But last year we paid out more in collision and liability claims that we were involved with than the average civilian would have on his insurance premium paid through an insurance company.  When you think about the amount of miles that we travel, the length of our equipment, the weight, it's amazing.  And that culminated in, Phil Forden, raise your hand Phil, he actually achieved his four millionth safe mile last year driving for J. B. Hunt.  Applause.  We'll continue to learn more.  We strive at all times to get safer and safer to the public and we appreciate your time today.  Next we have Steve Smith."

Good morning everybody, I'm Steve Smith with Metrolink Sheriff.  I am the liason for all the outside agencies with Metrolink that covers about 513 miles.  It's a pretty large area.  It has a lot of things that go on out there.  Today's a special day,.  This is international level crossing awareness day.  And what that means is than not only are we are we doing this here right now, this is occuring all over the world.  And I've been asked the question some times....(A Metrolink train runs behind the speaker.)  How appropriate, any time is train time.  But I've been asked the question sometimes, "how often do we do this kind of operation?  Do we do it once a year, twice a year?"  We do this operation all over the United States all the time.  When you think about and this kind of a sobering fact, every 180 minutes, there is some type of incident going on.  In the few hours that we have been here this morning, we've taken several violations.  One of those violations, if you can believe this, was a pedestrian, walking underneath a crossing gate.  And when the officer contacted him on the other side, it was kind of an interesting contact.  This person had a loaded gun on him.  Kind of scary isn't it?  But there's always something going on, so you have to ask yourself "why did this person cross underneath that gate when he could have been hit by a train?"  I guess he felt like he was lucky.  But we want to prevent these types of situations going on out here.  We want to prevent cars from stopping on the tracks.  This morning we're working with several agencies, over 40 officers with a specialized task force out there.  And our commitment is safety to reduce those incidents, to get them down.  Nothing is acceptible above zero.  We've all probably known somebody that had some type of collision.  We want to prevent that today.  So, my mission is to keep that safety,  do things right, by education, enforcement and engineering.  And I appreciate everybody joining me out here to make this possible.  The trucking association...good partnership. OK I'm going to turn it over to Senior Agent Jorge Villaescusa, Union Pacific Railroad.  Jorge.."


"Thank you Steve.  My name is Jorge Villaescusa, Police Officer with the Union Pacific Railroad.  I'm just going to talk to you about the two phase operation we have going this morning and afternoon.  This morning, we are doing enforcement east of this location all the way through Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk and basically emphasizing all crossings that vehicles should stop when the gates activate.  Pedestrians should wait as well.  We're going to run this operation through about 11:00 this morning then we're going move in the afternoon at 3:00 to the City of Industry at which time we are going to work from 3:00 PM to about 7:00 PM.  We're going to hit all the crossings there off of Fairway, Nogales and Fullerton Road.  Again, it's very busy intersections out there, we get a lot of gridlock.  One of our main issues that we have is that vehicles stop on the tracks.  A lot of times we have truck drivers that stop on the tracks and unfortunately we have what is called short stage crossings where the truckers don't have the room coming in.  (In a separate interview with Jorge Villaescusa, he explained a short stage crossing.  It is illustrated by imagining a "T" intersection with a parallel railroad track just under the top horizontal line of the "T". When the truck pulls up to the intersection with a stop sign, the truck may be on the track.  The railroad may ask the responsible public entity to change the stop sign to a signal.  This change helps the trucker and trains stay safe and separate.  He suggested to view the City of Industry street intersection of Valley Blvd and Fullerton Road.)   When that happens and the gates activate, you have the gridlock going on, a lot of times the train is going to hit the truck or it's going to be close enough or there's going to be other accidents involved.  I want to thank, first of all, all the law enforcement agencies that came out here to help us out today.  I want to thank the trucking companies that came out here.  That tells us a lot that they want to take the message back on safety with the crossings.  I'll tell you right now that I would rather give someone a citation and see them in court rather than come out here and respond to a fatality report and have to see them somewhere else.  I want to thank you all for being out here and we'll keep you updated with the numbers.  Later on we'll be briefing.  Next, we'll have Ronnie Garcia from BNSF."  Mr. Garcia explained the boarding plan for the train which was to arrive shortly.


The train was slightly delayed so the Rail Safety Team decided to ask Billy Parker to speak a second time.  Billy Parker spoke for another 17 minutes and went into detail about a certain incident from 1993 in Florida.  He was the engineer on an Amtrak train which was involved with a load gasoline tanker truck which resulted in deaths of innocent motorists.  It is the most passionate story you might ever hear of a train versus truck incident.  You may view and hear the whole speech via youTube.  It is broken into two parts.  Part One is about 7 minutes while Part Two is 10 minutes.  If you have not ever heard this story or are unfamiliar with it, please watch this video.  It may change your life.


Below, Union Pacific Railroad Police Officer Jorge Villaescusa being interviewed for Spanish language TV.


Trucker-on-the-train continued