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Union Pacific hopes Operation Lifesaver program will stem rail deaths, accidents

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Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:06 am, Wed Jun 13, 2012.

The thundering screech of the Union Pacific train whistle ripped through the air as dozens took a trip through Lodi to learn about train safety, train careers and train trivia for the Lodi area.

Community leaders, local law enforcement and local elected officials boarded the train Tuesday at the Lodi Transit Center, as volunteers from California Operation Lifesaver, along with Union Pacific employees, led a tour up and down Lodi tracks to try to boost awareness of the need for rail safety in the city.

The tour and train safety teaching session is meant to cover everything from train versus pedestrian accidents and how to avoid them, to learning how a derailment happens or how train engineers learn to drive locomotives.

The tour is a year-round program that is in 23 states west of the Mississippi River, according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Liisa Stark.

Through the presentations, local law enforcement are able to learn more about how to keep their city's railroads safer. Citations for those caught wandering too close to the tracks can be upwards of $300, as well as a stern talking-to about how dangerous trains can be.

Local leaders can spread the word through council meetings or newsletters, too.

"We try to focus on areas where trespassing incidents are higher," she said. "People have to realize that when they place things on the tracks like washing machines or couches, it doesn't hurt the train. They become deadly objects for other people."

The touring program will head to Manteca and Modesto today before continuing to head as far south as Fresno by Friday.

The tour comes on the heels of a deadly train versus pedestrian accident that occurred Sunday just north of Turner Road in Lodi.

The victim, 31-year-old Julian Gonzales, was killed on impact.

He is the first fatality this year. However, a pedestrian was grazed and broke a finger when he tried to jump past a train earlier this year. In October 2011, Lodi mother Christine Leach ran her car into a moving Union Pacific train, injuring her child, according to police.

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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