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Rail Runner hits, kills bicyclist

SANTA FE – For the second time in two months, a bicyclist was hit and killed by the Rail Runner commuter train in Santa Fe.

The man was riding west on the north sidewalk along St. Michael’s Drive and crossing the tracks when he collided with the northbound train, according to Santa Fe police. The incident occurred around 11:30 a.m., and the death was confirmed an hour later.

Authorities had not identified the man, who was said to be 44 years old in a transmission over an emergency radio scanner. It was unknown whether he was wearing a helmet or earphones.

“It appeared that all the crossing signals and warning lights were working properly,” police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said.

In April, 60-year-old Suzanne LeBeau was killed when crossing the tracks on the sidewalk south of Zia Road.

Two deaths of bicyclists so close together is “very surprising … hard to believe,” said Tim Rogers, a bicyclist who helped put together Santa Fe’s master bike plan.

“Nothing has really changed over the five years the Rail Runner has been happening. For these to happen is very bizarre. … We really need to understand more about what is going on,” he said.

Until this year, there were no fatalities of bicyclists encountering trains in Santa Fe.

The Rail Runner train No. 510 was carrying 225 passengers and stopped at the accident scene; passengers were bused on to their stations, either the South Capitol or downtown depot.

The No. 511 southbound train was delayed by about an hour after that.

The victim’s crumpled bicycle lay in the middle of the tracks about 30 yards north of the crossing. Police evidence technicians photographed the scene while others prepared instruments to take measurements.

State Department of Transportation inspectors are investigating the accident along with police. The DOT is expected to retrieve any video of the accident recorded from the train.

Any witnesses are asked to call police at 505-428-3710.

Rogers said he happened to be near the crossing at St. Michael’s Drive when he heard about the latest accident and he went to the scene.

“I don’t know how anyone could miss the sound and motion of the flashing lights,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to understand how someone would miss the cues.”

The state Department of Transportation had determined in the past that those signals would be enough to signal a warning to people on sidewalks or bike trails. LeBeau’s death led some people to discuss the possibility of putting security arms in place that would descend across the sidewalk (similar to the gates that go down across the road).

Discussions of such security members have been taking place at DOT since LeBeau’s death, but a decision on what, if anything, should be done has not been made, according to spokeswoman Melissa Dosher, who added that she could not predict when one could be expected.

The Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization recently released about 240 comments that were collected during Bike-To-Work Week on ways to make bicycling safer and easier, and only one person called for railroad crossing gates along a bike path or sidewalk. No one else mentioned trains, while a large number of people complained about dangers posed by motorists.

Rogers agreed that he has heard few people in the bicycling community talking about the need for such gates. “Most people are kind of perplexed at how this can happen,” he said of the collisions.

“Having gates would make it safer, no question,” he added. “I suspect this is something DOT is going to be looking at a little harder.”

Both Santa Fe police and DOT are collaborating in an effort to educate the community on the dangers of these intersections, according to the police news release.

Journal North reporter Andy Stiny contributed to this report.