Senator pushes for train safety

The safety train stopped Monday at George Washington Elementary School in Burbank as state Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale) and others came to the campus to tout the importance of reducing fatalities along railroad tracks.

"Unfortunately, California leads the nation in the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles and trains," said Liu, who noted that earlier this month two teens were killed on the Metrolink tracks in Mission Viejo. "These accidents are tragic and must be avoided."

Last year, Liu championed the state resolution that established September as Railroad Safety Month.

On Monday morning, George Washington fourth-graders attended an assembly led by members of Operation Lifesaver, a volunteer group dedicated to teaching safety along the rails.

At a news conference, Liu said that on their way to school many George Washington students cross active tracks on the other side of the Golden State (5) Freeway near Buena Vista Street.

"Educating parents and students is important," Liu said. "So many trains pass schools, and tracks seem to be a magnet for youngsters."

Pete Aadland, California director for Operation Lifesaver, said 86 people died in train-related accidents across the state last year.

"The last several years the number of fatalities has been fairly flat, 86 to 90," Aadland said. "There has been a decrease in accidents at grade crossings, offset by an increase in trespass-related accidents."

Aadland said people tend to use private railroad property for recreation or as a short cut, risking injury and violating trespassing laws.

Daniel Akins, 22, of Mission Viejo, and Anastasia Bolton, 17, of Del Mar, were killed by a Metrolink train earlier this month when they apparently fell asleep on the tracks. Authorities said the area is near a park frequently used by teenagers for late-night parties.

Union Pacific Railroad Police Sgt. James Hopkins and Burbank Unified School District Supt. Stan Carrizosa also spoke at the event. Operation Lifesaver officials plan to visit every school within 500 feet of a rail line in California.

Liu said rails are becoming more common in Southern California, with the extension of Metrolink lines, increased use of trains to carry freight and plans for a high-speed rail system, which officials say could whisk travelers from L.A. to the Bay Area in less than three hours. The multibillion-dollar project is still in the design stages.

"What we need to have happen with the High Speed Rail Authority is more communication with local schools and cities as to what their plans are," Liu said.

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