BUDA, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - If you were driving around Buda Thursday you might have noticed a Union Pacific locomotive going back and forth on the railroad tracks. "It's not only unsafe to try to beat the train at the crossing but it's against the law," said Alfredo Rodriguez, a Special Agent with the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department.
It was a team effort between the railroad company, local law enforcement and the Department of Public Safety. "We have officers at different agencies participating and assisting with us, some of them are riding the locomotive making contact with ground units that we have situated at different locations," Rodriguez said.
Agent Rodriguez says the program is called “U.P. Cares,” an acronym for Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety. They conduct the operation in different areas throughout the year. "Once the lights start flashing the driving public has to yield the right of way to trains. Lights flashing means stop, it doesn't mean speed up and try to beat the train at the crossing," he said.
Rodriguez says in the United States, a vehicle or person gets hit by a train every 3 hours and that's too many. In the Buda area alone, there's been more than one heartbreaking pedestrian death by a moving train in recent years.
Like 13-year-old Tanley Yacos who was killed in March 2016 while walking along the tracks near Main and Houston streets. In 2017, 21-year-old Ian Antonellis on Garison Road.
During the U.P. Cares operation, Rodriguez says when drivers are spotted ignoring the signals, going around the crossing gate, those ground units will pull the driver over.
"They're making contact, they can cite them, they can warn them," he said.
And if you've ever wondered why trying to "beat the train" is a deadly move...the locomotive that we rode in Thursday is 416,000 pounds but a full length freight train can weigh up to 12 million pounds according to Union Pacific. "A freight train that weighs 12 million pounds traveling at 55 miles an hour will take an hour or more to come to a complete stop," Rodriguez said.
Citations for disobeying railroad crossing signals can range from $50 to $200.