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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / UP 844 incident brings trackside safety to forefront NEWSWIRE

UP 844 incident brings trackside safety to forefront NEWSWIRE

By Chase Gunnoe | July 24, 2018

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Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 prepares to leave Cheyenne on July 19 to deadhead to Denver for the Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days Special.
Jim Wrinn
DENVER – Railroaders and safety advocates are speaking out about trackside safety after the weekend’s fatal incident with Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 north of Denver.

The incident occurred as No. 844 was leading a Frontier Days charter train south toward Denver from Cheyenne, Wyo., when it struck a pedestrian near a grade crossing 16 miles northeast of Denver. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene and the event prompted No. 844 and its steam crew to take a break from powering Sunday’s excursion.

Railroad spokeswoman Kristen South tells Trains News Wire the railroad employees were put in touch with peer counselors who are also locomotive engineers and conductors.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of the pedestrian killed in this incident,” she says.

As local authorities investigate the incident, railroad safety groups and those with railroad and law enforcement backgrounds are speaking out about trackside safety.

And while Saturday’s incident near Denver is one of the more high profile incidents in recent history, it’s one of more than 500 similar incidents that take place on U.S. railroads annually, as underscored by Operation Lifesaver’s statement.

“Our thoughts are with everyone involved with this incident. We want Trains readers and railfans to know that trespassing on railroad tracks and property is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in the U.S.,” Operation Lifesaver Interim President Wende Corcoran says. “Approximately 520 people were killed in rail trespassing incidents last year, according to preliminary Federal Railroad Administration statistics. We urge everyone to review our rail safety tips for pedestrians and photographers and help us stop track tragedies.”

Prior to UP’s tragic event Saturday evening, the railroad had already taken extra measures to promote safety around its steam trains. In a dedicated webpage titled, “UP Cares About Your Safety,” the railroad emphasized that the average train “overhangs the track by at least three feet,” urging all bystanders to “stand back at least 25 feet or more from the tracks to avoid debris and steam or being hit by the train itself.”

But even with these warnings, incidents can still happen and retired Norfolk Southern dispatcher and former Memphis police officer Steve Forrest says it’s not possible to cover every bit of railroad when special excursions are operating. He says that railroad special agents reach out to local law enforcement agencies for help with big events, but even agencies with large numbers of officers can’t cover every bit of railroad.

Forrest, who has experience helping with train excursions and serving the public through his career at the Memphis Police Department, believes the public looks at railroads as an afterthought.

“Most people don’t pay them much attention unless they get blocked at a crossing,” he says.

He references a lack of situational awareness in the general public these days, noting other hazards of how motorists fail to merge lanes on highways until the last minute or how drivers oftentimes ignore high water signs, resulting in water rescues.

“But no matter what you do, there will always be those who fail to reason,” he says. “I bet every police officer you talk to can tell you tales of trying to direct traffic at road closures and having people insist they need to have their way.”

23 thoughts on “UP 844 incident brings trackside safety to forefront NEWSWIRE

  1. My deepest sympathy goes out to the engine crew who will be unjustly blamed for someone else’s mistake. Alas.

  2. It is terrible that someone died as a result of 844 passing by on its way to Denver. My sympathy’s go out to the family of the pedestrian. The UP crew will have to live with this incident burned into their memories. They also have my deepest sympathies. They did nothing wrong and yet someone will try to blame them somehow. If only people would respect he size and power of trains and stay off of the right of way, then these things wouldn’t happen.

  3. Mr Pack, I think we have all done stupid things in our lives and lucked out by not getting hurt or worse. The person who was killed probably had very little knowledge of railroading. Lets let her rest in peace and condolences to her family and friends.

  4. Mr. Crowe

    I have no tolerance for stupidity, if I do anything that someone thinks is stupid, it’s because I’m intentionally doing it…they may think it’s stupid, but there’s a valid reason for me to do it.

  5. As a General Contractor now semi-retired during my long career I have been involved in three fatalities in two incidents. I was hauling a slip-form paver and lady ran a stop sign when I was going 55 mph. That incident happened on July 17, 1982. The other accident occurred while hauling a 85,000 # track backhoe. Same thing again August 3, 1998 with two fatalities. Simply put it never leaves your mind and think about it often. Time heals but you all still have scars. So will all concerned and there is nothing you can do about it.

  6. Forefront of what? When was safety not the first rule of railroading? How do you prevent things like this? Operation Lifesaver has done all they could to warn folks. What do we do now? Will these incidents be the end of historic railroading? Your suggestions?

  7. The photo with this story is illustrative of what needs to be done. Set up a railfan viewing location a very safe distance from the ROW, this looks to be about 30 feet. The only possibly closer location is a platform at a station, with appropriate warnings. I’ve had an Acela Express scream by me about 10 feet away doing about a buck 20 bypassing a commuter rail station south of Boston, and it scared the crap out of me. I was just waiting for a commuter rail train, had no idea the Acela was due beforehand. The rails squealed but no sound from the train. Sometimes you can’t blame people for their ignorance.

  8. Of all the articles on Trains News Wire in the past few days, and all the posts in response, this article does the best job of putting it all in perspective. Excellent job.

  9. HELL, safety in ANY potentially hazardous situation involving railroad property, not just “trackside” safety, should come first and foremost before anything else! I am so sick of all these ***holes, ESPECIALLY here in the United States of America, who are ENTITLED, SELFISH, and THINK THEY ARE INVINCIBLE (when trying to “beat a train” at a grade crossing or anywhere else, for that matter.), or who think they are more important than everyone else (as former PO and NS dispatcher Steve Forrest alluded to from a place of wisdom and experience.) It is becoming a dog-eat-dog world out there. Decent, law abiding citizens BEWARE! Beware of STUPID, because you CANNOT fix him (or her) anymore! Stupid will continue to remain stupid…

  10. As a retired conductor with NJT I’ve had at least 10 trespasser fatalities in my career and witnessed five others. Rail fans are sometimes over zealous in their pursuit of their hobby and become unaware of the dangers of photographing events on rr property. All involved suffer the consequences of a train strike. I can still visualize each and every fatality I was involved in since the conductor has to ascertain the incident. Rail fans are vital since they record history of the railroads. Without them there wouldn’t be records of the fallen flags that I enjoy viewing. Every rail fan should participate in an Operation Life Saver program before they enter railroad property so they are aware of the danger of being near the tracks. Remember rule S safety is of the utmost importance.

  11. Railroading is an unforgiving animal, as many a worker has found out. Why would anyone, general public or railfan, think that it would anything but on them? A train doesn’t care one way or the other whether a commuter thinks “I can walk around the gates because the train will stop at the platform.”
    How does he or she know that it’s not an express train running 10 minutes late and won’t stop? I wish I had a dollar for every one of those we didn’t let on.
    The train doesn’t care if a person knows a lot about trains or they have their safety yellow railfan vest on.
    Trust me, the train doesn’t care. I’ve been involved in 8 incidents since 2005. Never did the train flinch before anyone of them happened.

  12. An infamous fantrip accident occurred in the early-1980s on the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) in eastern Switzerland. There was a movie run on a horseshoe curve with a trestle. The train was supposed to stop before the trestle to reload. But the driver got down from his seat to help the fireman with the fire. The train went right through the stopping point and onto the trestle. Fans there got knocked off down to the rocks below. There were about 6 – 7 killed and several injured. This accident was clearly the result of carelessness.

  13. A simple rule to live by: Always expect a train, on any track, at any time, in either direction. Even if the track in question is an old weed grown spur in the middle of nowhere, stop and look both ways, even if you feel “silly” doing it.

  14. George Pins:

    It was Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of New York state, who made the comment. “Ham Sandwich” gets used a lot in attorneys’ offices, so I stand by what I said…and yes, he was indicted and I believe had a vacation at Club Fed.

    I see a lot – a LOT of unethical behaviour on both sides of the courtroom. You start law school all starry eyed, there to fight for truth and justice, but by the time you graduate you are down there in the mud ready to do just about anything to get enough money to pay off that insane nut you are now burdened with.

    It doesn’t help that, especially in the criminal arena, job security and prospects for advancement for assistant District Attorneys depends heavily on your kill rate. Between that and absolute prosecutorial immunity, there is little to impede all but the most blatant and egregious ethical violations on the part of the advocate for the People.

    This is also seen in civil litigation. People who hire attorneys don’t want ethics…they want someone who will win, ethics be damned. So as I said, if I brought a tort against UP for this incident, and I was judicious as to how I couched it and who got into the jury box, I could clean house. Facts be damned, ethics be damned.

    I work in a highly regulated industry and my job is to make sure that other people do their jobs – exactly right, and in accordance with procedures and regulations. Given the nature of what we play with in this industry (very big, very expensive, extreme possibility of “grave social consequences” if done wrong), it is a necessary role. And I don’t have to litigate against anyone, and I don’t have sell my soul to the highest bidder. That’s what the mercenaries down the street are for (grin).

    And I do not think I am a bad lawyer.

    The above remarks are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Go find your own damn lawyer.

    n.b. I just got off the phone, telling my employer that things do not necessarily work the way he wants them to work. They work in accordance with the law, and in accordance with procedure. Wishing something to be magically true doesn’t make it so.


  15. Anna Harding – This is the Trains News Wire, so let’s just agree to wander off into the legal and ethical weeds for a back-and-forth some day when we can have a beer together, not here.

  16. Steven Bauer:

    “Any argument you can make with a straight face.”, or so the wise old lawyer once told me. We – you and I, the people who infest this forum – know the truth: This is major machinery and if you are stupid, or if you are careless, it will turn you into hamburger. But, along the other adage of “If you work hard enough you can build a case against a ham sandwich.”, I guarantee you that if I took a negligence case against UP to trial, and I was careful about the jurors I picked, I could bring in a seven figure verdict.

    After all, Thomas the Tank Engine can stop instantly, why couldn’t UP 844 and its train? Therefore UP must have been negligent and no other explanation is possible. In the trade such thinking is known as the “CSI phenomena”. But it is real, and I deal with it every day.

    If UP decides to dump its steam heritage program because of this incident I would consider that to be the real tragedy here but I wouldn’t blame them. What with deep pockets and all they are an obvious target and there are people out there every day trying to take something away from them. Why should they encourage such efforts?

    The above remarks are general in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Go find your own damn lawyer.

  17. Why does this article make it sound like its the trains fault? Trains are loud and equipped with whistles and bells – and they use them! This damned (dead) fool did not get out of the way. He is dead, it is sad, but it is also his fault.

  18. Friend of mine drives a semi for a living. Very safe driver & is a recruiter & trainer. 2-3 years ago, he was involved in an accident that was not his fault, a car w/ two people in it smoking weed all day hit his semi, car caught fire, killing the passenger. Yet his trucking company he drives for was successfully sued by the driver of the automobile. Let me let him explain it:

    “It was explained to me in a very legalistic politically correct way. Here is my interpretation of why a settlement was reached.
    1. 2 black young men. Smoking weed all day celebrating the prison release of a 3rd brother.

    2. Rich caucasian owned company.

    3. One black man hits truck and kills other black man doing over 4 times the posted speed limit

    4. Surviving black man goes to jail. Now this family has been victimized 3 time. 1st brother in jail. 2 brother now dead. 3rd brother goes to jail

    5. Montgomery County Alabama is a predominantly black county. Jury pool will be 98% black. Historically cases heard by black juries go real bad for companies not owned by black folks. Jury awards are massive

    Hence a check was written.”

    Once the automobile driver was released from prison, he was awarded a huge sum despite being at fault..

    Now, I know the story doesn’t represent the railroad industry, but is a prime example of the punitive legal climate we live in & railroads operate in.

  19. Anna Harding – 99% of lawyers make the other 1% look bad, or, as Hillary Clinton might say, be careful of what you guarantee. It was the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals who said that “A Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich.” Don’t remember if it was before or after said Chief Judge went to jail.

  20. The last paragraph is SO true! You just can’t teach common sense, which is not very common with some people. Those who believe they are immune to danger or quicker than the equipment are doomed to death or dismemberment beyond all reason. They are the small percentage of people who respectfully wish to keep alive excursions with both steam and modern equipment, and thus treat the equipment and its operators with the respect that common sense dictate they be accorded.

  21. i feel sorry for the crew because they have to live this the rest of their life because of some body elses stupidity.i also feel sad cause this person died.i have been near the tracks when 844 goes by at 72 mph its very very quiet. so everyone please be safe around the railroads

  22. prayers to the family who suffered this loss. OLI Idaho warns people about the dangers of trespassing on the right of way. Trains have an overhang of 3 feet on each side and the railroad exclusion zone is 25 feet from the tracks. For safety you should be 150 feet back or you risk being hit. Also I want all the name calling to stop. People call us railfans FOAMERs need to understand it is an insult and people like Jim Berril need to think before they type. Asking the Railroad Police to “shoot all railfans on sight” will help no one it will just make things worse. We can not bring the people who died back but we can send OLI instructors and volunteers to warn people. So please stay off the tracks, stay 150 feet away, and please don’t harass Railroad Police Officers into drawing their weapons. This is not the Wild West, the 1930s, or Emperor of the North. police shootings and swatting will just make it worse not better and it is illegal to request swatting even after a tragedy like Denver.

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