A 23-year-old Camp Pendleton Marine became the fourth person in a month to be struck and killed by a train in North County when a southbound Amtrak train hit him Friday evening as he walked along the tracks in Leucadia.
Sheriff's deputies found the body of Cpl. John Penwell in the 1100 block of Old Highway 101 between the Santa Fe Railway tracks and Vulcan Avenue. He had been struck about 9:20 p.m. Friday.
Three people were killed by trains exactly a month ago in separate incidents, reviving calls for greater safety along the tracks. In one instance, a bicyclist tried to outrun a train. In another, a Leucadia woman was hit as she and her husband were walking their dog. The third death was believed to be a suicide.
Penwell was walking on the tracks with another person when he was hit near a "No Trespassing" sign, officials said. The train was traveling 90 m.p.h., said Mike Martin, a spokesman for Santa Fe Railway.
Southbound trains travel with engines in the rear and those who live near the tracks say they pass by swiftly and silently, often with little warning.
In this case, the engineer of the seven-car, two-engine train reported that Penwell was walking on the tracks and "failed to get off even though the horn was sounding and the headlight was on bright," said Clifford Black, Amtrak's director of public affairs in Washington, D.C.
"Every attempt was made to alert this individual," Black said. "The engineer placed the emergency brake on but was simply unable to stop."
The train that hit Penwell was delayed for 84 minutes. A northbound train was delayed 96 minutes because of the accident, Black said.
Penwell joined the U.S. Marine Corps in February, 1988, and arrived at Camp Pendleton in December, 1990, where he served in the 1st Marine Division, an infantry unit. His service record lists Seattle, Wash., as his hometown, said Cpl. Dave Hiersekorn, a base spokesman.
In the past two years, trains have killed more than a dozen people in San Diego County, including two women at the Del Mar station in December, 1990.
The husband of one of the dead women lobbied rail officials for months until a fence was erected at the station to keep people from dashing across the tracks.
Earlier this month, Hashu Waney wrote to Santa Fe Railway officials asking that movements of passenger trains be announced at Amtrak stations, particularly in Del Mar.
"I thought it important to bring this to your attention . . . to ask that communication of Santa Fe train movements be given to the Del Mar station master for timely safety announcements so that people near the station be warned," he wrote to the director of the Santa Fe Railway western regional office in Los Angeles.
On each month's anniversary of his wife's death, Waney places flowers near the tracks of the Del Mar station.
Santa Fe Railway officials say that those who walk on or near the tracks are trespassing, although many miles of track, particularly in North County, are accessible to pedestrians. Plans to lower or raise the track to keep people from crossing has been considered but never implemented because of its cost, Santa Fe officials say.
Santa Fe is in the midst of selling off all of its Southern California track to public and private agencies and may transfer all of its property in the area by the end of 1993.
"It's almost becoming a cliche but the obvious thing is that if people aren't on the tracks, they won't get hit," Santa Fe spokesman Martin said. "I think everyone who lives in the area has been exposed to the message that this is a high-speed rail corridor and has been since World War II."
Most of those who have been hit in recent years live close to the tracks, Martin said.
"They know the track is active and yet people continue to get out there and trespass," he said. "Many see the tracks as a path of convenience."