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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY JOHN COX, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
As if on cue Monday afternoon, a man carrying a bicycle illegally crossed the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Baker Street right in front of a moving train.
Although the man ended up with a ticket, his timing hardly could have been more appropriate for what was taking place inside the train. Railroad safety officials were showing members of the public and local news media how not to behave around trains.
The man's mistake was no fluke. Over the course of the next half hour or so along a 10- or 12-mile stretch, half a dozen other people were cited for dangerous behaviors such as trespassing on the Union Pacific right of way.
Statewide last year, about 90 people died from being hit by a train, either because they trespassed onto train tracks or they drove a vehicle into a railroad crossing at the wrong time, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit that organized Monday's event together with Union Pacific.
"Every single one of (the deaths) would have been prevented if people had obeyed the laws," said Peter Aadland, California coordinator for Operation Lifesaver.
In Kern County in 2009, there were three collisions involving pedestrian railroad trespassing, the same number as 2008, according to Operation Lifesaver. It said vehicle versus train collisions in Kern County totaled nine in 2009, which was more than double 2008's total. The figures do not include suicides.
A growing number of these accidents result from distraction, be it texting, cell phones or music listening devices, Aadland said. He said pedestrians playing "chicken" with trains is another leading cause of accidents.
Events such as the one Monday are intended to reduce the number of collisions. Operation Lifesaver and Union Pacific worked with local law enforcement to target illegal behavior around train tracks.
Incidents such as the man crossing tracks with his bike Monday "happen all the time," Union Pacific spokeswoman Liisa Lawson Stark said. She added that it's never legal to walk over a train track outside of a designated crossing.
Union Pacific public safety manager Bob Resch said it's also a bad idea (and illegal) to cross railroad tracks where a train is stopped. He explained a "slinky effect" in which car couplings allow trains to shift forward or backward several feet without warning.