Last year, four people in Maricopa County were killed by trains: Two while trying to cross the tracks in their cars, two trespassing on foot.
Officials with Arizona Operation Lifesaver and Union Pacific want to reduce those numbers.
Today, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe police officers will join Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies on a Union Pacific train for the Officer on the Train program, said Jon Waide, incoming Arizona Operation Lifesaver president.
Between 5:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., officers will ride the train back and forth between Tempe and Queen Creek as other officers stand watch at various crossings.
"The idea is not to see how many people we can give tickets to, but to see how many people we can get the word out to," Waide said.
Queen Creek lately has experienced problems with more people moving there, Waide said.
The trains not only run through town, but they also stop periodically, sheriff’s deputy Mike Lucas said.
Federal and state laws prohibit trains from stopping for more than 15 minutes, but the town has had problems with the trains stopping for extended periods of time, Lucas said.
On a couple of occasions, emergency vehicles have had to go around a stopped train, Lucas said. He once ticketed a Union Pacific engineer for stopping too long, he said.
Lucas said some Queen Creek residents, thinking the train might stop, try to tempt fate.
"People get frustrated when they have to wait in lines and they’ll either make a U-turn, which can cause an accident, or they’ll speed up to try to beat the train," Lucas said. "Sometimes, when the train goes by, the arms stay down and the people will go around them, too."
What people don’t realize is that by the time an engineer sees someone on the tracks, it’s too late to avoid them, Waide said.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, it may take up to a mile or more for a train traveling 55 mph to stop.
In recent months, Queen Creek officials have met with Union Pacific officials, Lucas said. They’ve also met with transportation officials about possibly building either an underpass or an overpass near Ellsworth Road.
The train program was conducted Tuesday in the West Valley, Waide said.