Would you take your dog for a leisurely stroll along I-5? How about a picnic just feet from one of the runways at SeaTac? Sounds preposterous, right? Yet, people place themselves in similar danger every time they step foot on a train track.
We treat tracks as though they are nature trails designed for walking and jogging along or merely nuisances to cross over to get to the beach. But the tracks and the land on either side of them are owned by the railways and it’s actually illegal – second degree criminal trespassing, if convicted – to be on the tracks.
Common sense doesn’t seem to be enough to deter people, though. Look no further than the recent Woodway incident where a woman walking her dog was clipped by the handrail of a passing train. The young woman wasn’t killed, but her dog was seriously injured. She was fortunate. The number of pedestrian trespassing fatalities in this state, and nationwide, has been on the rise. In 1998, ten people died in Washington. That number rose to 14 in 1999. So far this year, eight people have died.
Snohomish County residents aren’t immune to the lack of respect for the railways. In Mukilteo and Edmonds, people build elaborate stairways down the slopes of their property and right up against the tracks so they can cross over to the water. In Sultan, a Washington State trooper discovered a popular party spot just feet from the tracks. Some Marysville youngsters follow the tracks to school in the morning. And in Everett, some transients have been known to camp alongside the tracks and hop the cars.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is getting aggressive in catching and citing people who fail to obey the law.
"Our goal is a zero-tolerance trespassing policy for 2000," said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman. "We’re not enforcing this to be corporate bad boys. The bottom line is we don’t want anybody to be hurt."
An empty track may seem like the perfect place for a peaceful stroll or hearty jog. But today’s trains are even quieter and faster than before. And it takes a mile for the average freight train to come to a stop. Even if you move off a track, you could still be swiped by a handrail or something else protruding from the train.
It’s difficult to say what more could be done to prevent such tragedies. Many state agencies have banded together to come up with awareness programs. But the real remedy is common sense applied by the individual. We’ve had plenty of warnings. It’s time to stop such foolish behavior and follow the law. Those who disregard it should face the trespassing penalty, even if they’re injured.