ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – New Mexicans are taking bold risks against the 400 ton Rail Runner train. It’s lead to 15 deaths and many more collisions and near-misses.
“People are crazy they think they can take a chance,” said train rider Ramona Bridges.
Just minutes after Bridges and her husband boarded the morning Rail Runner, a driver tried to beat the train on Montano and clipped the crossing gate. The couple snapped a photo.
The New Mexico Rail Runner has been rolling down the tracks between Belen and Santa Fe for nearly 9 years. And over those years, train engineers can’t believe what they see. Cameras on the train catch it all on camera.
KRQE News 13 obtained more than a dozen surveillance videos from Rail Runner trains of the near-misses.
“There’s no steering wheel inside, we can apply emergency brakes, but that’s about all we can do. We can honk the horn, flash the lights and it’s up to the motorist to get out of the way,” said Stephanie Paiz, the Rail Runner Safety Coordinator.
On camera, several cars tried to beat the train and go around the gates. The train had to hit the emergency brakes to slow down.
One early morning last month, a yellow school bus was seen going around the arm and breaking it off from the post. It’s unknown if there were kids on board. The bus made it through the intersection. But the train didn’t stop in time and hit the gate. Rail Runner officials called bus companies but all denied it was one of their buses.
A 400 ton train travels up to 79mph. It takes three-quarters of a mile to stop. The 15 deaths since the Rail Runner started in 2006 proves trains can’t always stop in time. Most recently, last October, two people were killed in Albuquerque’s south valley.
And it’s not just vehicles that play chicken with the train.
Surveillance video showed several people walking on or near the tracks. Unless a person is at a crossing or at a train station, it’s illegal to be within 50 feet of the tracks. It’s trespassing.
The cameras caught several instances where people jumped off the tracks just seconds before the train passed by. One man was seen walking in front of the train as it inched along. At one point he turned to the train, yelled at the engineer and flipped him the bird. He then moved off the tracks to let the train pass.
Kids were seen running off the track. Another rode a bike about a foot from the Rail Runner that passed by at a train station. If he took a spill into the train’s path, he could be run over.
“The second he went out of sight, the engineer doesn’t know if he got caught under the wheels,” Paiz said.
Another man was seen just a few feet from the tracks taking a “selfie” photograph as the train whizzed by.
Durning Balloon Fiesta last year, dozens of people were seen on camera close to the train tracks. And a handful of balloon envelopes were seen either inflated or on the ground.
“The draft can catch the balloon and drag it into the train wheels and get caught up in there,” Paiz said.
The engineer stops the train almost every time there is a near-miss or a collision. That delays the route and can back up traffic on the road.
“If we’re stopped in the middle of a crossing, that’s where we come to a stop, that’s where we have to stay until the police come and conduct their investigation. It can take 2 hours, it can take eight hours,” Paiz said.
Rail Runner officials said collisions are hard on staff.
“The last thing that people do before they’re struck by a train directly into the eyes of the engineer,” Paiz said. “It’s heartbreaking, it stays with us.”
People who go around railroad crossing gates face a $150 fine statewide and $196 fine in Santa Fe.