Risky crossings remain problem for railroad officials

May 13, 2010 6:26:26 PM PDT
East Bay park officials are admitting they took down a section of safety fence along busy railroad tracks in Pinole. Two people have been hit and killed at the improvised crossing, the latest just Wednesday.

An opening in the fence and a well-worn dirt path can be seen leading to the tracks in the Pinole Shores area. About 15 years ago, there was a continuous fence in place that was supposed to keep people off of the path and away from the train tracks they have to cross to get to the beach.

Officials say the fence was taken down because they could not maintain it. They say they could not maintain it because people were continually cutting through it to get to the other side.

It is a walk that no one is supposed to take, but just about everyone does. The "No Trespassing" sign is meant to keep people out, but the large opening in the fence and the clear path seem to encourage the walk to the train tracks on the other side.

It is an illegal walk and it was a deadly one Wednesday for 60-year-old Christopher Gray of San Pablo and his dog. It was also a deadly one for a 17-year-old Richmond High student in February. There were two deaths in less than three months and despite pleas from the teenager's family, it seems the fence will remain exactly as it is.

"We do not leave it open to encourage people to go over there, and that's why we have signage up saying you're leaving the park district boundary. You're on your own. This is a dangerous situation," explained Shelly Lewis with East Bay Regional Parks.

East Bay Regional Parks is responsible for the fence. Amtrak operates the trains. Union Pacific owns the tracks and surrounding land. The "No Trespassing" sign belongs to them too, but Union Pacific police have not issued any trespassing citations there recently.

"That really causes us to take a step back and recalibrate our resources and ensure that people in that area understand the dangers on right of way," Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said.

"The only way to close it off is to build almost a prison-like fence, a six, eight, ten-foot fence with wire at the top," Lewis said. "I don't think that's what the community wants."

"I'd regret it because it's a nice easy access to get down there to the water and for people to fish and just relax," Kathy Godwin of Hercules told ABC7.

Walkers, teens hanging out and fishermen all told ABC7 they will keep taking the dangerous walk across the tracks as long as its available.

"I just think that people just need to use a little more safety procedures when they walk on the tracks because you got train tracks pretty much everywhere you go," said Alton Strickland of Pinole.

The citations run between $100 and $200. On Wednesday, the same day Gray was killed, railroad police issued 15 citations to people trespassing the tracks at a similar problem spot in Richmond.


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