Students learn to be safe
Rowland Community Day School tries to get students back on track. But when it comes to safety, the school wants students to stay away from nearby railroad tracks.
The steel rails run right through the middle of Rowland and Hacienda Heights. These busy mainlines carry vital freight, as well as passenger trains.
Traffic halts when the long freight trains rumble alongside Valley Boulevard. Motorists are often tempted to rush through these intersections before the warning arms have completely lowered.
"What does the average motorist do when they see the crossing guard coming down?" asked Ron Garcia, a safety spokesman for Operation Lifesaver. "They speed up to sneak through before the train comes!"
As a locomotive engineer with more than a decade of experience with BNSF Railroad, Garcia knows firsthand what happens when the train beats the car through the intersection.
"By the time an engineer sees your car on the track, it's already too late to stop the train. I hit a work van once and had a near-miss another time," said Garcia, who used to drive trains between Los Angeles and Barstow.
The safety spokesman noted that a freight train traveling at 55 mph will take a mile or more to stop. And an eight-car passenger train traveling at 79 mph will also take more than a mile to come to a complete halt.
"Think of them as stop lights. Assoon as the signal lights start flashing come to a complete stop outside the crossing arms," Garcia said.
Many area high school students also cross the tracks or walk alongside them. Santana High School actually abuts the tracks on Otterbein Avenue.
"Students will often cut across the tracks instead of walking down to Nogales to cross at the intersection," said Charles Plumley, vice principal at Santana and the Community Day School.
"I remember one kid got hit by a train and was literally cut into pieces," Plumley recalled.
Garcia said students can't be too careful around the speeding trains. Not all are slow freights rumbling through the San Gabriel Valley.
"I remember two girls were crossing the tracks at an intersection. One stopped to tie her shoes while the other crossed the tracks," Garcia told the students.
"Her friends waved her to hurry before the train came. The girl was hit by a Metrolink traveling 70 mph. It struck her so hard it knocked her out of her shoes," Garcia said.
Garcia also warned students not to throw anything at trains or put anything on the tracks.
"Something on the track could derail a train, or it might shoot out and hit somebody,"
Still, the railroad man recommended his job to the students. He said all they needed to work for a railroad were a high school diploma and a good driving record.
"A friend of mine makes more than $60,000 a year as a conductor," Garcia said.
Teacher Lori Wasson said the Rowland students always enjoy hearing from the railroad speakers.
"Garcia's great, he has a big impact on the kids. You can hear them talk about it afterward," said Wasson, who grew up near the tracks herself.
School Police Chief Don Fernald said his officers will be warning students found crossing the railroad tracks.
"Then we'll begin issuing $500 tickets for trespassing," Fernald said.
The district's top cop told the students that they already knew how to stay safe - by making proper decisions.
"You have to make the right decisions or live with the consequences," Fernald said. "Today, we arrested a girl at Nogales High School for being under the influence of marijuana. And now she'll have to live with the consequences."
He said it was the same with other criminal activities, including tagging and fighting.
The police chief suggested using the MOM technique.
"Just ask yourself what your mother would think about what you do. Mom's always a good tool to use to make the right decision," Fernald said.
The students also got to visit with firemen from Los Angeles County Fire Station 145. The local firefighters showed the students how to safely put out fires.
The kids also learned how all the equipment on the fire engine works. They literally got carried away during a rescue demonstration.
The Community Day School events were one of many being celebrated in Rowland schools during Community Safety Week.
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801