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Union Pacific urges railway safety after string of Central Coast deaths

Jordan Bell, KCBX News

Over the past five years, nearly 30 people have died on the train tracks running through San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.

Many of these incidents have been ruled accidental.

Officials said last week they believe that's the case with the recent death of 22-year-old Cal Poly student at a train crossing near the university.

Union Pacific runs 32,000 miles of track throughout the nation, and said Friday that it's working to inform the public about the dangers of illegally crossing those tracks.

In San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, most person and train collisions happen, not with freight trains, but with Amtrak trains that are using the same tracks.

Regardless of the train involved, engineers can be affected by these incidents.

"We have engineers that, you know, it's hard for them to recover when they experience something like this, because every time they go through that same route, they remember the incident they were involved in and there was nothing they could do about it," said Francisco Castillo, Director of Public Affairs for Union Pacific.

Castillo said the company invests time educating communities of active railway danger through its U.P. CARES program. But, he said, they're also enforcing the rules.

Over the past several weeks, Union Pacific police agents made one arrest and cited 34 others while patrolling San Luis Obispo County railways for illegal crossings.

Castillo said there are common misconceptions about train activity.

"First of all, freight trains don't travel at a fixed time and schedules for passenger trains change," he said. "So always, always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection."

He said it takes about a mile for some trains to completely stop and urges the public to stay off the tracks to avoid being killed by a train.

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