Union Pacific, explain what happened

Letters

I am not a train expert, and I won’t pretend to be, so please excuse me if my terms and expressions are more slang-like than official. I am writing in response to a recent tragedy that struck my community just two days ago. It was just nine days into 2015 when a 54-year-old Gilroy man was struck and killed by a Union Pacific railway maintenance vehicle. This accident occurred at the intersection of Masten Avenue and Monterey Road, one I frequent every day on my way to school and work, and again on my way home. I cross this intersection with my 15-month old daughter in the car. With my 8-year old siblings in the car. My mother, my father, my grandfather, my neighbors—we all cross this intersection and its railroad tracks on a daily basis. And now I can’t help but question mine, my family’s, and all the members of my community’s safety crossing these tracks. This fear is not of the trains or the maintenance vehicles, but rather, of Union Pacific itself.
In my opinion, whenever there is a train or service vehicle on the tracks, the safety arms should be lowered. Actually, my opinion is irrelevant. This is a logical idea and a reasonable request. By law, drivers are not required to stop before crossing railroad tracks. Although school buses, slow-moving and oversized vehicles, and other company vehicles may practice this precaution, we, the everyday Joes in our personal cars, do not. And then again, we shouldn’t have to.
In this particular tragedy that occurred, the railroad arms were in the upright position and the red lights did not flash when this maintenance vehicle came into the road. A man lost his life while following the law and trusting in Union Pacific to have safe procedures and intact equipment. Instead, this service vehicle collided with the man’s truck on its passenger side, flipping the vehicle onto the driver’s side, pinning the man and killing him. I later found out that my aunt, a resident of Morgan Hill, about 10 miles south of where this incident occurred, was nearly struck by the SAME service vehicle, due to the safety arms being in the upright position rather than lowered, with no indication of a train or vehicle being present on the tracks. She had my 3-year old cousin in the car with her at this time.
If Union Pacific’s policy is to have the arms lowered any time a train or vehicle is on the tracks, then wonderful, this is a fantastic and logical policy and it is clear they have intentions of keeping people safe. Keyword: intentions. If there is an automatic system in place to trigger the lowering of the safety arms, flashing of red lights, and ringing of bells, why was it not triggered at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2015? Why is this crucial and life-saving equipment not being attended to and maintained properly? If it’s not an automatic system or a practiced policy, then why not? How can Union Pacific explain this accident?
With that said, it was just about a week before this accident that I saw two Union Pacific workers repairing or testing the safety arms at the SAME intersection the tragedy took place. Even more alarming was the fact that it was on the same side of the road that the man was driving on when he was struck. So if the safety arms were broken or if there was a known problem with their activation, shouldn’t there have been more intensive work done and tests run to ensure they were functioning safely and properly in order for the tracks to remain active? Furthermore, if there were known problems with the railroad arms that could not be immediately repaired, shouldn’t Union Pacific have stressed to their workers the significance of safety when operating the machinery? Shouldn’t there have been more vigilance and caution instilled in their workers in this time of dysfunctional safety equipment? Or was this problem passed off as no big deal? There are so many questions that I would like answered, and I’m sure many others would too. I don’t know if we will ever get these answers. But what we do know is that a man lost his life because of something that could have easily been prevented.
A statement was made by the Union Pacific workers, recognizing that the safety arms were in the upright position despite the service vehicle coming down the tracks, and that they should typically be lowered. They regarded it as a “common occurrence” at which point the workers are supposed to slow down and honk the horn several times before entering the roadway. Which they did not. This incident being regarded as a “common occurrence” is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE, and I was appalled to even read that statement. I cannot believe someone could walk away from this tragedy, calling the malfunction that claimed a life a “common occurrence” as if it was nothing to even think twice about. That is a new level of neglect and apathy.
The town of Gilroy sits somber following this tragedy. We mourn for the family who lost their loved one. We hope for justice and closure to come for those affected by this loss. And most of all, we wait for our questions to be answered. We should not have to fear driving over “clear” railroad tracks and worry about when tragedy will strike again. Lives should not be lost due to protocol breaches or neglectful equipment maintenance.
There are so many questions that contradict one another. There are so many press releases that contradict one another. The blame is being passed on from one to the other. So to whom it may concern, I ask for an explanation. I ask for the truth.
Alyssa Bianco
“We mourn for the family who lost their loved one. We hope for justice and closure to come for those affected by this loss. And most of all, we wait for our questions to be answered. We should not have to fear driving over ‘clear’ railroad tracks and worry about when tragedy will strike again. Lives should not be lost due to protocol breaches or neglectful equipment maintenance.”
-Alyssa Bianco

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