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Groups raise awareness of safety near railroads

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland City Police Sgt. Cheyenne Cute hands out railroad informational material to commuters Wednesday at the Port Watson railroad crossing in Cortland.

Traffic slowed up Wednesday morning near the railroad tracks on Port Watson Street in Cortland. There wasn’t an accident. The crossing barriers weren’t stuck down. There wasn’t a train going through.

Instead, members of the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway, Cortland city police and Operation Life Saver were handing out pamphlets as cars slowly rolled by.

Each pamphlet had two sides.

One side outlined the penalties for violating railroad crossing laws. If a vehicle does not stop and obey signals indicating the approach of a train, the driver could be fined between $250 and $400 and face up to 30 days in jail.

The other side of the pamphlet outlined laws on trespassing on railroad property. Trespassing on railroad property can result in the charge of third-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.

The traffic stop was part of Rail Safety Week, a nationwide effort to inform the public on the dangers of violating railroad laws, said Evan Eisenhandler, executive director of Operation Life Saver New York.

“In the last 10 years 23,000 crossing collisions between vehicles and trains have occurred throughout the U.S.,” Eisenhandler said. Of those accidents 2,750 people have been killed and another 9,000 injured.

This was the first traffic stop for Rail Safety Week done in Cortland, Eisenhandler said.

Melanie Boyer, a spokeswoman for the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway, said the event also brings awareness to railroad crossing safety.

Some safety tips Boyer and Eisenhandler had for people when approaching a railroad crossing are:

* Don’t stop the car on the train tracks.

* Stay out of the box, or area of the tracks, when stopping the car.

* Be prepared to stop or yield at crossings.

* Don’t try to go around crossing barriers when they are down.

* Wait for the crossing gate to fully lift before driving through.

Almost all railroad tracks across the U.S. are privately owned by the railroad companies, Boyer said. “We do see a lot (of trespassing incidents).”

City Police Sgt. Cheyenne Cute was assisting in the stop and handing out pamphlets. “It’s just to make people aware of railroad laws,” he said.

The Port Watson Street crossing and the Clinton Avenue crossing are the two crossings that receive the most traffic in the city, Cute said. When a train is traveling through, it can back up traffic for eight to 10 minutes.

While Cortland doesn’t deal a lot with vehicle and train accidents, Cute said city police deal a lot with trespass. “It (the railway) is not an avenue for pedestrian traffic,” he said. “That’s what sidewalks are for.”

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