Union Pacific and San Jose team up to keep railroad tracks clear of homeless encampments

Amanda del Castillo Image
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Union Pacific and San Jose team up to keep railroad tracks clear
The City of San Jose and Union Pacific are working together to improve safety on railroad tracks and putting the focus on homeless encampments.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Solving the issue of homelessness and building a better Bay Area require cooperation on every level.

In San Jose, Union Pacific and City leaders are finally working together to improve safety on railroad tracks.

After years of complaints from residents and city council, Union Pacific is taking on an extensive, citywide clean-up effort.

The City of San Jose and Union Pacific are now putting the focus on homeless encampments and blight along bustling railroad tracks.

"We're worried a lot about these folks," District 10 Councilman Johnny Khamis told ABC7 News. "It's too dangerous for everyone involved."

Railroad tracks along Monterey Road often referred to as the "homeless highway" by residents, fall within District 10 borders.

Khamis explained all are impacted including the homeless population living along the tracks, train conductors, and residents living nearby.

Because of the widespread impact, city leaders threatened to sue the railroad operator if it didn't take action.

"There's been a lot of activity out here, and it makes everyone uncomfortable. So, I do get a lot of complaints," Khamis said. "I've gotten people who are scared because there were fires leaping over the walls."

Neighbors who spoke with ABC7 News said something needed to be done.

"It got worse as far as garbage and human waste," one resident said, after asking to remain anonymous. "Throughout the night we would hear yelling and screaming. Some people were actually throwing things over the wall and into the parking lot over at the apartments."

RELATED: Sonoma County Supervisors vote on $11.6 million plan to help homeless living on biking trail

The resident lives next to another Union Pacific railroad between the city's Japantown and Hensley neighborhoods.

She pointed to the nearby Grace Community Center. She said, while the center provides plenty of resources, it also keeps the homeless population close.

Councilman Khamis said there are now new plans for monthly clean-up. He explained Union Pacific has now granted the City of San Jose to assist.

He said the city does not have jurisdiction over Union Pacific's right-of-way, which made it difficult for city leaders to take any action.

"I'm really happy about the increased cooperation between us and Union Pacific, and us with the County," Khamis said. "I'm hoping that the State will step in and give us money so that we could serve these people more too."

Union Pacific shared the following statement with ABC7 News:

"Over the past year, Union Pacific has been working in partnership with the City of San Jose to help abate blight and nuisance on UP private property. UP owns and operates a number of miles of railroad right of way in the city, and due to its location and nature, the UP right of way experiences trespassing, unlawful encampments, dumping, graffiti and other illegal activities by third parties from time to time, despite UP's efforts to protect against these activities.

To further our shared interest in reducing illegal activity and improving public safety, a safety awareness and citywide cleanup effort is underway in San Jose that launched Nov. 13 and runs for several weeks. It's being conducted by Union Pacific in cooperation with the City of San Jose. Clean-up will take place on our right of way as well as the city's right of way."

Union Pacific said its highest priority is the safety of its employees and the communities it serves.

A spokesperson acknowledged that trespassing on railroad property is a problem, which creates a hazard for the public as well as Union Pacific employees.

After crews cleared tracks along Monterey Road several weeks ago, ABC7 News found that tents didn't make it too far.

RELATED: Oakland homeless camp to be cleaned up, residents forced out

Across the street, still on Monterey Road, is a growing encampment.

Homeless advocates explained this is all part of the problem.

"I think it's completely inhumane," homeless advocate, Shaunn Cartwright told ABC7 News. "The only time that you should remove people from a situation where they have safety, and where they have warmth and where they have felt safe is when you have a place for them to go."

Cartwright was behind a power design used in an art installation over the weekend.

Outside San Jose City Hall on Saturday were 161 tombstones made out of foam. Each tombstone named the 161 homeless people who have died on Santa Clara County streets this year.

"For over 50 percent of people, they were seniors," Cartwright said. "It was people over 55."

The display was placed outside City Hall, showing city leaders what can happen without lasting solutions.

"It's easy to brush off 161 names," Cartwright said. "It's not easy to brush off 161 tombstones."

More than keeping railroad tracks clear, Cartwright said it's about taking real action that won't add to the homeless death count.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.