Not every Council Bluffs motorist takes warning signs of approaching trains seriously.
That was the unfortunate finding of a project Wednesday as part of U.S. Rail Safety Week. The project involved Council Bluffs police officers, the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office and the Union Pacific Police Department.
Officers rode in the cab of a Union Pacific locomotive, observing motorists’ behavior at railroad grade crossings. These officers, when observing violations, contacted other officers positioned near the crossings to ticket or warn those violators.
Those officers positioned in their vehicles were also watching for violations that included unlawful pedestrian crossings or walking on tracks. The project occurred during from mid-afternoon through the evening rush hour on U.P.’s main line.
According to the Council Bluffs Police Department, officers wrote 14 total crossing violations and warnings, six insurance violations, two registration violations, two trespassing violations and a no driver’s license citation.
“We want to keep the public safe,” said Kelli O’Brien, U.P.’s public affairs director for Iowa and Nebraska. “We urgently ask people to be safe around our tracks and follow the rules. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be safe around trains.”
While passenger trains have a fixed schedule that motorists could become familiar with over time, freight trains can run at different times because they have no fixed schedule, O’Brien said.
U.S. Rail Safety Week is a nationwide safety awareness campaign designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety education organization.
Motorists in Iowa and nationwide are obeying railroad warning signs more than even a few years ago, based on the decreased numbers of collisions and fatalities.
As of last Tuesday, there have been only 23 collisions in 2017 between trains and vehicles in Iowa, with no reported fatalities. During 2013, there were 49 collisions with five fatalities.
There have been 82 collisions between trains and vehicles this year nationwide with nine fatalities. In 2013, there were 2,102 collisions and 232 fatalities.
On Tuesday, officers conducted a railroad crossing education campaign by handing out educational flyers at South 16th Street and Seventh Avenue in conjunction with U.S. Railroad Safety Week and Operation Lifesaver.