Maj. Warren Jenkins, of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department, remembers that Charles E. Murray Jr. was horrified when a train struck a firetruck last fall, killing two Catlett volunteer firefighters and injuring 81 other people.

Murray's horror was prophetic. At 8:15 p.m. July 9, Murray, a 10-year veteran and sergeant in the department, was killed when his police car was hit by a train on the same stretch of tracks along Route 643.

The accident that killed Murray, 27, occurred about 1 1/2 miles from the site of the earlier tragedy; he was hit by the same Amtrak Crescent train operated by the same engineer, said Jenkins, the department's chief deputy.

"He was out serving warrants and nobody knows what happened," Jenkins said. "He was a careful person, but someone who liked to get things done, someone who was always on the move. If I had to guess, knowing him as well as I do, I would say he probably was thinking about what he had to do next on the job, and just didn't pay attention. He had a lapse of memory for just a second."

Statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration show there were 5,766 collisions at public railroad crossings and 518 at crossings on private property in 1989, resulting in 712 deaths.

Eight people in Virginia and one in Maryland died from such collisions last year, said Anne Sargeant, executive assistant of Operation Livesaver Inc., a nonprofit organization that promotes railroad crossing safety. The District had no such fatalities last year, she said.

In the first three months of this year, there were 1,497 accidents reported at railroad crossings in the United States, causing 152 fatalities, Sargeant said.

Federal statistics also show that 434 people were killed while trespassing on railroad tracks.

To teach motorists about the need for caution when approaching railroad crossings, Operation Lifesaver came to Prince William County last week to shoot a film that will target senior citizens, school bus drivers, rescue workers and drivers when it is released later this year, said Leila Osina, the group's executive director.

"We hope to get this {film} out to coordinators in 49 of 50 states and . . . have them use it in their states as they go to schools and civic organizations," Sargeant said.

Filming took place on a stretch of Norfolk Southern railway tracks near Wakeman Drive and Route 28 by Hr Productions Inc., a Washington film production company, officials said.

When completed, the film will include a special message by actor Michael Gross, who was one of the stars of NBC television's "Family Ties" and is the spokesman for Operation Lifesaver. Gross will urge the public to take care at the nation's 300,000 public and private rail crossings.

The railroad crossing where Murray was killed was not protected by a gate to stop traffic. There were no flashing lights or a warning bell to let motorists know when a train is approaching, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said railroad intersections in rural areas such as Fauquier County often are not equipped with crossing equipment because of cost. "That's why it's so important for people to be careful," he said.

Last September, a Catlett Volunteer Fire Department truck was heading down a brush-lined road just before dark when it was hit by an Amtrak passenger train.

Two firefighters were killed and 81 people were injured in the crash; most of those hurt were passengers on the train. The train was traveling just under the 79 miles an hour speed limit for that location.

"It was the same train, the same engineer that hit" Murray, Jenkins said. "He just drove right in front of the train. The car didn't stall. It appeared like he just didn't see it or hear it or just didn't stop at the crossing." Jenkins said a warning sign is posted at the site. About 350 Fauquier County residents have signed a petition asking for a gate, flashing lights and alarm bells at the site, Jenkins said.

"The tracks are marked and there are warning signs, so you should always stop and look both ways before proceeding," Jenkins said. "But they want something else done at that intersection where Charles was killed and at others around the county."