KPD, railroad draw the line

Deadly 'convenience route' behind Bashas', Kmart off limits to cars, pedestrians

Jeff Pope/Miner
An average of five trains per hour roll through Kingman daily. With the heavy rail traffic and recent death of a local man, police and the railroad plan to enforce safety in the area along Eastern Avenue behind the Bashas¹ and Kmart shopping center.

Jeff Pope/Miner An average of five trains per hour roll through Kingman daily. With the heavy rail traffic and recent death of a local man, police and the railroad plan to enforce safety in the area along Eastern Avenue behind the Bashas¹ and Kmart shopping center.

KINGMAN ­ Philip Goodrich parked his car east of the tracks that run adjacent to the Bashas' and Kmart shopping center and crossed. Unfortunately for the man who walked with a cane, he lost his footing on the tracks, fell and was unable to move before an oncoming Amtrak train struck him, according to the police report.

Kingman police said Goodrich was one of a large number of people who park along Eastern Avenue and walk to the shopping center across the tracks rather than drive to the Louise Avenue crossing and use the center's front entrance off Andy Devine Avenue. It's a loop that covers several miles as opposed to a shortcut of only a few hundred feet.

"It's a dangerous convenience route," Lt. Dean Brice said.

With the housing boom expected to continue east of the tracks, the KPD and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company are teaming up to restrict illegal and unsafe crossings behind the shopping center.

The tracks belong to the railroad, making them private property. Kingman and railroad law enforcement officers are beginning work on a campaign to halt illegal crossings. The plan includes educational action as well as ticketing people for trespassing. The citation would be considered a misdemeanor. Vehicles parked on railroad property would be towed.

"We see the biggest problem in that area," Officer Evan Kunert said. "It's going to be zero tolerance. They will be cited."

Goodrich's death last month symbolizes the danger of crossing the traffic-heavy tracks. A records search by the Kingman Police Department showed 10 people have died from being hit by a train in Kingman between January 2000 and March 2006. Three deaths were recorded as accidents while the rest were deemed suicides, Kunert said.

Most of the 10 deaths occurred along Eastern Avenue, Kunert said. One accidental death occurred downtown near the Powerhouse. The records don't include the number of near misses.

Officers said they've seen people pulling baby strollers or wagons across the tracks. Others park alongside the tracks to pick up employees or shoppers. Public Transit Supervisor Theresa Parker said some elderly riders walk across the tracks because the shopping center is a KART stop. She added that a new line covering the eastern side of Kingman would open within the year.

Keith Stockwell, a safety coordinator with BNSF, said freight and Amtrak trains are allowed to drive up to 70 mph through the area.

They slow to 35 mph before reaching Louise and are slower through downtown because of curves. As many as 80 to 110 trains pass through Kingman daily, he said. At the high end of the scale, that equates to five trains per hour.

There have been increased reports of objects placed on the tracks also, Stockwell said.

Officer Jason York said a BNSF investigator relayed information to him that shows that during the same time period as the KPD research, the railroad reported four incidents of people throwing things at the trains and 29 incidents of objects left on the tracks. Some of those incidents included cars becoming stuck at crossings, York added. BNSF issued 183 trespassing warnings and 16 citations during that time period.

Obstructions on the tracks can cause damage to the engines and cars or cause them to derail. The freight trains could be carrying anything including nuclear waste, Stockwell said.

"Objects that go underneath the engines can separate air brake lines, damage fuel tanks, anything that's under the train," he said.

Striking objects causes the trains to enter an emergency mode. The stopping distance in an emergency could be more than a mile depending on the weight of the train. The average weight of a freight train is 12 million pounds, Stockwell said.

The railroad has tried alternatives to citations, Stockwell said. Fences would be cut down and building an elevated walkway over the tracks does not guarantee pedestrians would use it, he said.

The Airway Avenue Underpass is scheduled to open this summer, which should shorten the drive time to the commercial corridor on E. Andy Devine.

Stockwell said the right-of-way varies, but as a general rule, the railroad owns approximately 50 feet on either side of the rails. Seven of eight no trespassing signs along the tracks have disappeared but the company will replace them soon, he added.

Officers will also be watching for off-road vehicles trying to cross tracks.

"They think they can get across, but those big loose stones around the tracks sink into the ground. The vehicles can get high-centered and stuck," York said.

Brice said the information campaign would be unrolled during the next few months. People crossing the tracks will have a grace period before police begin issuing tickets.