Train speed doubles

Staff writer

In an effort to be more efficient, Union Pacific Railroad trains will almost double their speed through Marion, starting Friday.

“Right now, the trains have to slow way down while they are in Marion,” said William R. Fitzgerald, a Union Pacific locomotive engineer. “If we maintain a 49 mph speed limit all the way down the line, we can save on the constant wear on our brakes.”

Union Pacific will gradually increase the trains’ speed from 25 mph to 49 mph by Tuesday. Officials say it would be dangerous to double the speed immediately because of the current condition of the tracks. Originally, the 25 mph speed limit was implemented because Union Pacific officials deemed the condition of the tracks to be a “safety hazard.” But Union Pacific officials say it’s time to relook at the speed limits through the town, believing that the track could hold up under added pressure.

But, they said that they will take precaution. During the first four days, locomotive engineers will in increase their speed by 5 to 10 mph on each pass. This will pack down the rocks, and ensure that the track can handle the trains’ speed. If there are any issues, Union Pacific will relook at the matter.

Some residents have been concerned about additional traffic on the track, but Union Pacific says it doesn’t have any plans to increase the number of trains going down the track.

“It is purely a plan to be more efficient,” Fitzgerald said.

But, even with a careful eye on certain safety laws, Union Pacific knows the company’s safety efforts is only half the battle. Drivers also need to be vigilant.

“When those barriers are up and that red light is on, people need to pay attention to their surroundings and know that it isn’t safe to cross over the tracks,” Fitzgerald said. “People really have to watch what they are doing. The warnings should be taken seriously.”

Jennifer Blackwell of Chicago was driving through Marion in her last Thursday, when she saw the train coming down the track. Instead of waiting, she rushed to go through the barrier. Mere seconds after she was safely on the other side that a Union Pacific locomotive came barreling past the crossing.

“It scared me,” she said. “I saw my life flash before my eyes. I will never again cross those tracks. I realized at that moment that breathing was important to me.”

Fitzgerald said that, like Blackwell, people get impatient waiting for the train to arrive and think they can duck around the barriers without any repercussions. But it doesn’t always work and people have been critically injured in the past.

“You just can’t play chicken with a train,” he said.

Fitzgerald believes watching a train come in is like watching a plane fly into an airport.

“Your perception is most always skewed,” he commented. “You don’t really know how fast they are going. It’s just not safe to cross when you see a train coming. It show really poor judgment.”

Under Kansas state law, it is a punishable offense to go through a railroad crossing when the arms are down and the light is a steady red. It doesn’t matter whether a person is traveling on foot or by car, they can still be ticketed for disobeying the posted safety guidelines.

Fitzgerald urges Marion residents to “play it safe” and respect the 10,000-ton steel vehicle coming down the track.

“It is almost always correct to assume that the trains on the track are going much faster than you are,” he said. You’ve got to watch out. After all, they can’t stop on a dime.”

Fitzgerald also is a presenter for Operation Lifesaver. For more information, contact him at (620) 951-0059.

 

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