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Since Aug. 1, North County Transit District has stepped up enforcement of trespassing along all rail corridors, from Oceanside to San Diego and Escondido. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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NCTD steps up enforcement along rail corridor

REGION — Surfers, beachgoers or anyone who strolls alongside or crosses railroad tracks at an unauthorized area may want to think twice before making that move.

If caught it could cost up to $500 or six months in jail. Since Aug. 1 North County Transit District has “significantly” increased enforcement of trespassing along all rail corridors, from Oceanside to San Diego and Escondido.

NCTD began a pilot program in Del Mar in 2014 to let people know that crossing railroad tracks at an unauthorized area or walking or jogging alongside them is illegal.

The district planned to spend about a year on education and outreach before handing out tickets but those efforts were extended, with violators at times receiving warnings.

Despite those efforts, Jaime Becerra, NCTD’s chief of transit enforcement, said the problem is getting worse.

“Every day, people are blatantly risking their life as they illegally cross these tracks,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that they are also risking the lives of hundreds of other people, too.”

When a train, which can be traveling around 75 mph, has to make an emergency stop because people are on or near the tracks there’s a risk of injury to the passengers and train crews who didn’t expect a sudden stop.

“A train doesn’t stop like a car, and it definitely can’t swerve like a car,” Becerra said.

Emergency stops also legally require an inspection of the rail after they occur, which causes delays to passengers and other trains on the rail corridor.

“With a trespasser on the rails, the best-case scenario is that hundreds of passengers are inconveniently delayed due to an emergency stop,” said Sean Loofbourrow, NCTD’s chief of safety. “But far too often the results are tragic.

“There is no such thing as illegally crossing a railroad track safely,” he added. “It’s always unsafe, and it’s always wrong to jeopardize the safety of others just for the convenience of crossing where you want to cross.”

Del Mar City Councilman Don Mosier, who serves on the NCTD board, said the action was taken for two reasons.

There have been three deaths in two years along the tracks just in his small city.

“That’s a very high number for that short mile-and-a half stretch that goes through Del Mar,” Mosier said. “So there’s a public safety concern.”

He said trespassing is also impacting the adjacent bluffs, one of which collapsed recently near 10th Street.

“(San Diego Association of Governments) engineers want all pedestrian traffic off the top of the bluff because that traffic is killing the vegetation and making the erosion problem worse,” he said.

Former Mayor Dave Druker said the city should oppose the increased enforcement efforts.

“I find this to be really terrible,” he said. “1996, when NCTD took over the train, we fought this at that time.

“There is no safety problem per say out there,” he added. “We just had a series of accidents. … We need to have access to the bluff. It’s our park. People are not dying from falling off the bluff.”

He said council members “should be fighting against NCTD on” this.

“When I was a (representative on the board) I basically told NCTD to back off,” Druker said. “This does not make sense. … This is one of our major areas for recreation and I think the council needs to take a very strong position against NCTD on this.”

Signs are placed beside the tracks informing people it is dangerous and illegal to walk on the rail line. “No Trespassing” has been stenciled on the sides of the tracks.

1 comment

John E August 5, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Druker is 100% right. With extremely rare exceptions, pedestrians struck by trains are either drunk, suicidal, or exceptionally careless. Contrary to NCTD’s security chief’s statement, there is indeed “such a thing as illegally crossing a railroad track safely” — people do it every day at places where they have great visibility in both directions, but no place to cross. NCTD and local City Councils acknowledge that we urgently need more crossings, but meanwhile the years drag on with no action beyond the (thank you — very nicely done!) undercrossing at the south end of downtown Encinitas.

Prosecution (persecution) of folks who cross the tracks responsibly and safely will not reduce the number of incidents, but it will severely compromise relations between law enforcement and the local citizens, who want their tax money spent fighting REAL crime that impacts them. As a regular Coaster commuter and enthusiastic fan of the service, I share NCTD’s interest in keeping the trains running on time and the crews avoiding the undeniable trauma of striking a pedestrian, but there are more constructive ways to accomplish this. I suspect the trains are already equipped with forward-looking cameras, and the relevant footage can be reviewed when the crew reports a near-miss. Pictures of offenders who cross the path of an oncoming train should be posted on a “wall of shame” on NCTD’s website, and if positive identification can be made, they should be cited. Use a little judgment in applying penalties, because there is a HUGE difference between crossing a long, straight stretch of track when no trains are anywhere in sight or sound, versus crossing the path of an oncoming train.

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