Just before 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, a Missoula Police Officer responded to 500 Taylor Street to meet with employees of Montana Rail Link regarding a trespass to MRL property and tampering with MRL control boxes.

An employee reported that he saw a male, 58-year-old Tracy Ronning, walking along the rails near the Taylor Street crossing. He watched Ronning tamper with the lock on the control box. He saw Ronning open the door and start messing with the internal equipment. Police Public Information Officer Lydia Arnold explains.

“Officers were advised that Ronning had been trespassing on Montana Rail Link property and was causing damage,” Arnold said. “When officers arrived on scene, MRL employees were able to explain to officers that Ronning had gotten into a control signal box and was able to disable the train signals.”

MRL employees immediately saw that Ronning had turned off all of the power switches to the crossing warning devices. As one employee examined each of the boxes, he took photographs to document the condition they were in and then repaired or the interior equipment or mechanisms to return them to the operating condition they had been before being tampered with.

“This is an extreme public safety hazard because the signaling of a train coming would not have worked if MRL employees had not been able to see that the box was damaged,” Arnold said. “Pedestrians and drivers in the area would not have been made aware that a train was coming through the crossing. Thankfully, there was no incident.”

MRL employees said there easily could have been a collision between a vehicle or pedestrian and a train. An employee explained, in a collision, the train always wins and is an inherently life-threatening situation to anyone who is hit by a train. He said that controlled railroad crossings exist for the safety of the public because train collisions almost exclusively end in death or serious injury.

The employee said the Taylor Street crossing exists mainly to let tanker trucks full of petroleum fuels know when it is safe to cross over the tracks. He stated that these trucks are often pulling double trailers full of fuel from the north side of the tracks to the south side of the tracks. Immediately to the south of this crossing is a busy gas station and the Eastgate Shopping center. He stated that if a train collided with a fuel truck, the damage would be catastrophic.

By tampering with and turning power off to MRL’s critical safety equipment, Ronning caused a substantial risk of death or serious bodily to the general public utilizing the crossing. He is currently being charged with felony criminal endangerment, felony criminal trespass, and criminal trespass to property.

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