Thieves make RR crossings dangerous

COPPER WIRES

January 5, 2008

By KIM SMITH STAFF WRITER

WILMINGTON -- Dep. Chief Mike Boyle has issued a warning: Be very careful traveling through area railroad crossings.

Someone has been stealing the overhead copper wires from railroad crossings. The wires are used to send the signal to activate the gates and warning lights at the crossings.

"There is an alarm that gets set off if these things are not working," Boyle said. "The problem is a train must pass through the crossing first." These thefts makes for the possibility of a deadly collision between a vehicle and a train.

The wires have been cut three times over the past two weeks in Wilmington. Boyle fears that this maybe happening in other areas.

The thefts have been reported at all different hours of the day -- 11 a.m., 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. -- at Union Pacific crossings.

The thieves are using tree trimmers to cut the green coated 10-gauge wires, which Boyle says look like a long fence.

"We want to avoid someone getting killed," Boyle said. "This is a very bad situation."

Mark Davis, spokesman for the Union Pacific Railroad, said historically this is a problem when the price of copper goes up. He verified that thefts were reported twice Sunday and once Tuesday.

"This is a very dangerous theft," Davis said. "They do not know if the wires are high voltage or not. The wires may appear not to be in use when they are. Someone could be electrocuted."

Gates are set to automatically go down when someone tampers with the signal wires, but there are no gates on some of the Wilmington crossings.

Motorists are being asked to call 911 if they see anyone lurking around railroad crossings appearing to be doing work without a clearly marked Union Pacific vehicle parked nearby. Davis said anyone seeing any suspicious activities can also call the UP dispatch center at (888) 877-7267.

Reporter Kim Smith can be reached at (815) 729-6067 or at ksmith@scn1.com