Metrolink, police target rail safety violators

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Glendale Police Sgt. Peter Presnall

The stretch between the Glendale and Burbank stations includes some of the most accident-prone crossings on Metrolink’s map. It’s not far from the spot at which Juan Manuel Alvarez pulled his SUV onto the tracks in 2005 and caused the second-deadliest crash in Metrolink history. Officials of the commuter rail system invited reporters Thursday to ride a rail safety enforcement train.

As the train shuttled between the stations, Glendale Police officers patrolled each crossing for motorists who try to drive around the safety gates and beat the train.

"Most of the guys that run around the gates are the guys who probably do it frequently because they never get stopped, they never get caught," said Glendale Police Sergeant Peter Presnall, observing from the locomotive. "Now that we have this kind of program, hopefully we can get those repeat offenders to get them to stop doing what they’re doing."

Between the crossings there’s plenty of room for other illegal activity the police would like to stop: parking vehicles on the tracks, riding motorcycles in the railroad right of way, walking along the rails – some people even do that while they listen to music through headphones. During my ride, an engineer spotted someone on a bicycle hurrying across the tracks

"It appeared that he was crossing on our property rather than at a designated crossing, where it’s a safe place to do so," said Steve Smith, a Metrolink sheriff. "That’s one of the things that we face out here – trespassing in inappropriate places. And it puts the crews at risk ‘cause they may have to put the train in emergency to keep from hitting the person."

Metrolink officials said that on railroads across the country nationwide, there are about 500 trespassing fatalities a year. California has the largest share.

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