August 17, 2008
The past couple weeks dozens of people have received tickets from the Charlottesville Police for railroad trespassing. Many of those ticketed were students trying to get from their apartments to the Corner.
Charlottesville Police say the main reason they patrol the tracks is safety. So far, no one has been struck or killed by a train in Charlottesville. But there have been injuries.
Police say it is not just trains people should be concerned about, they warn that the secluded nature of the tracks is conducive to crime.
"Some of those freight trains come right through our downtown area, and people cross those tracks during the day," said Charlottesville Police Chief, Tim Longo.
The CSX Railroad runs through the heart of Charlottesville several times a day, both downtown and on The Corner. A majority of these tracks run through the University community, therefore many students are crossing these tracks as a short cut to reach The Corner, or avoid it.
"Even the panhandling on the street corner. If you don't want to get hassled, it's another good way to go, so people are just trying to find alternatives," said Kurt Jacobson, who lives across from the train tracks.
Part of the problem is that the paths in and around the tracks are well worn. Plus, there are no physical barriers, like fences or bushes to stop someone from crossing the tracks, which is exactly why police are enforcing the $100 fine.
"We are really vigilant at trying to dissuade students from crossing the tracks," said Chief Longo.
Chief Longo says students should stick to roads, pedestrian crossings, and other well-lit areas. When crossing the tracks, they run the risk of being assaulted by people lurking in the bushes along Virginia Avenue.
"I think it should be more of police making sure it's for public safety and not handing out citations, because from what I've seen that's what people think," said Jacobson.
However, it is not just students getting tickets. Some employees downtown have been ticketed for parking on one side of the tracks and walking across to get to work.
"These are adults and other working class folk who are merely trying to get from their place of enforcement to their car, but the law is the law and we don't draw lines as to who gets the enforcement and who doesn't," said Chief Longo.
The Buckingham Railroad Branch wants fences or some sort of natural barrier installed to dissuade people from trespassing on the train tracks. So far, those changes are pretty low on City Council's agenda.
All railroad tracks are the private property of the railroad. Railroad trespassing is a misdemeanor and you could face fines if caught crossing the tracks.