Investigators examine the Union Pacific track in south Kyle near where a 16-year-old boy was struck and killed by a northbound train shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday. PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS
by SEAN KIMMONS
A 16-year-old boy was killed shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday morning when he was struck by a Union Pacific train as he walked along railroad tracks about a quarter mile from downtown Kyle.
The train engineer reported sounding the northbound train’s horn repeatedly and that Ramon Eric Zapata initially stepped off the tracks, but then stepped back on and was struck. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith, city officials say.
The incident did not occur near a railway intersection, but along the tracks flanked by heavy brush.
“We’ll be investigating this incident to determine what happened,” Union Pacific spokesperson Raquel Espinoza said. “These situations are extremely difficult when they involve young people.”
Zapata attended Hays CISD schools but withdrew in 2008, according to Hays CISD spokesperson Julie Jerome.
Near the site of the incident, Zapata’s friend Jordan Valdez said that Zapata was planning to enroll at a local high school this week after moving back here from California. Zapata was energetic, enjoyed the outdoors and liked to fish and hunt, Valdez said.
“I’m in shock right now,” Valdez said Wednesday. “He was a really good friend. … I’ve known him since he was seven. I watched him grow up.”
In a written statement, City of Kyle spokesperson Jerry Hendrix said walking along train tracks is against the law and urged residents to avoid the rails. Said Hendrix, “There is no indication that this is anything more then a tragic accident.”
“This is something that we don’t want to ever see again,” Espinoza said.
Zapata is at least the fourth person killed by a train in Hays County in a little more than two years. All of those cases were in San Marcos and all involved probable suicides in which the person did not move off the tracks when warning horns were sounded.
No one was injured in October 2009 when an Amtrak train collided with a car that was stuck on the Main Street crossing in downtown Buda.
Railroad safety tips provided by Union Pacific:
- Freight trains don’t travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains change. Always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection.
- All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks; it’s illegal trespass and highly dangerous. By the time a locomotive engineer sees a trespasser or vehicle on the tracks it’s too late. It takes the average freight train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile—the length of 18 football fields—to stop. Trains cannot stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.
- The average locomotive weighs about 400,000 pounds or 200 tons; it can weigh up to 6,000 tons. This makes the weight ratio of a car to a train proportional to that of a soda can to a car. We all know what happens to a soda can hit by a car.
- Trains have the right of way 100% of the time over emergency vehicles, cars, the police and pedestrians.
- A train can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail, putting the safety zone for pedestrians well beyond the three foot mark. If there are rails on the railroad ties always assume the track is in use, even if there are weeds or the track looks unused.
- Trains can move in either direction at any time. Sometimes their cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.
- Today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale “clackety-clack.” Any approaching train is always closer, moving faster, than you think.
- There are over 160,000 miles of railroad tracks in the United States (Association of American Railroads). Remember to cross them only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings, and obey all warning signs and signals posted there. At many crossings you’ll see a sign bearing a number. Use that to identify your exact location when calling to report an emergency.
- Stay alert around railroad tracks. No texting, headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train; never mix rails and recreation.