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The Great Divide

Union Pacific builds a fence in downtown Truckee to prevent illegal track crossing
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Pedestrian Train Track Safety

• Walking on railroad tracks, or the rights-of-way on either side of them, is illegal.

• You will not be safe if you walk between the rails.

• It is not safe to cross the tracks even if you can see a quarter mile in each direction.

• A locomotive is not always at the front of a train.

• It is not safe to cross the tracks just as soon as the last car of a train passes the crossing.

• As a pedestrian, it is not safe to ignore the flashing red lights at the crossing.

• You will not have plenty of time to step out of the train’s path when you hear a train coming.

• Playing on rail equipment, tracks, or railcars is forbidden.

• Crossing tracks with a baby stroller, in a wheelchair, or on other narrow wheels requires caution and extra attention.

Facts obtained from Operation Lifesaver,

Trains have been traveling through Truckee since 1867. But now, after 148 years, Union Pacific Railroad is building a fence in downtown Truckee between McIver Crossing and Bridge Street to prevent pedestrians from crossing the tracks, which is illegal.

Union Pacific approached the Town of Truckee this spring, stating they would soon begin the construction of a railroad fence that would stretch from Bridge Street to McIver Crossing on both sides of the tracks. They broke ground on the project Sept. 14.

Union Pacific Spokesperson Francisco Castillo said the railroad had received a number of trespassing complaints and were concerned with the number of children and families crossing the tracks, particularly in the summer months during Truckee Thursdays. According to Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook, Union Pacific officials had been attending the occasional Truckee Thursdays for the past few years and photographing the illegal crossings. Because the railroad company owns the land between Donner Pass Rd. and West Lake Blvd., crossing there is considered trespassing, so UP was not required to go through an approval process with the town.

"Trespassing is an issue that needs to be addressed, primarily for the safety of the community," said Catillo, who has been to Truckee to do rail safety outreach. "A lot of people are not aware that it is illegal to cross the tracks."

Truckee Police Sgt. Danny Renfrow explained that crossing railroad tracks is a misdemeanor and that while the Truckee Police Department has issued thousands of warnings, they have never issued a citation. According to the Nevada County Superior Court, the citation amount is at the discretion of the judge, but typically run between $300 and $500. Castillo said Union Pacific police can also issue citations. 

Lashbrook explained that UP, which had no obligation to reach out to the town, is interested in creating and maintaining a meaningful, working relationship with Truckee. 

“They did not ask for our permission, but they were willing to take some input,” said Lashbrook, who cited the town’s main concerns with the project were the appearance of the fence and where it could be seen.

In 2014, there were 145 fatalities in California — the highest in the country — due to pedestrians crossing railroad tracks illegally, according to non-profit Operation Lifesaver, which provides nationwide education on railroad safety. UP is building 16 railway fences in the greater Northern California area this year, but Truckee is the only town that will get a “decorative fence,” Lashbrook said. The fence will include black posts, identical to the existing fence located directly in front of the Truckee Amtrak station. Black is used so that it will blend in and disappear to the eye. The fence will span 2,400 ft. and be 4 ft. high in most places, and 6 ft. high where West River St. comes closer to the tracks.

“They [Union Pacific] really cooperated to minimize the visual impact of the fence,” Lashbrook said.

Because of the decorative component, the project tops out at $175,000. 

Pedestrian track crossings will now be on either end of the tracks in Downtown Truckee — at Bridge Street and McIver Crossing. These crossing zones are equipped with new pedestrian sidewalks that will allow people to safely travel between the northern and southern sides of the tracks. There is no plan for a mid-track crossing.

Lashbrook predicts the greatest impact created by the fence, set to be completed by Oct. 10, will be to Truckee Thursdays participants and during other large events that require overflow parking on West River Street. But Castillo stresses that it is ultimately a safety concern and hopes that the fence will reduce the number of pedestrians that cross the tracks. 

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Reader comments so far...

Hankskool | Tahoe City
What? Did I read this right? Union Pacific is just going ahead and building this fence without paying for three years worth of environmental impact studies? Oh My God! Oh , that's right. 'Environmentalists' don't pick on those who are able to flick their opposition off like a mosquito, nor on anything that doesn't effect their own property values.

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March 14, 2019