Davis wants ped crossing added to UP plan for Olive Drive fence
- Published Wednesday, January 12, 2011, by the Davis Enterprise
Union Pacific holds firm on fence plans
By Crystal Lee
Enterprise staff writer
If Union Pacific Railroad insists on building a fence along its tracks in Davis, the city wants a chance to include a safe crossing point for pedestrians traveling between downtown and Olive Drive.
The Davis City Council on Tuesday night directed city staff to do a risk analysis of crossing plans and keep an open dialog with Union Pacific and other involved agencies, including the Federal Railroad Administration and California Public Utilities Commission.
Councilwoman Sue Greenwald, as the city's representative to the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority board of directors, also will advise that body to withhold funding for the project for the time being.
CCJPA is in charge of distributing state transit safety and security funds to projects it approves. The agency is ready to fund the Union Pacific project, pending support from the city of Davis, said Jim Allison, CCJPA planning manager.
However, a plan will need to be in place well before the funds expire in March 2013, Allison said.
Depending on the type of crossing, it is possible the CCJPA funds would not cover that portion of the project, he said.
CCJPA probably won't fund an at-grade crossing, where the path is at the same level as the tracks, he said. But an overhead crossing, since it would be effective only if there was a fence, might be considered part of the project, he said.
Union Pacific is willing to work with the city to reach an agreement, said Liisa Stark, the company's director of public affairs.
The fence would be made of "vandal-resistant" material and run 3,600 feet, approximately 8 feet tall, parallel to the tracks and along Olive Drive, from Richards Boulevard to L Street.
"There will be no barbed wire coming out of the top," said Stark, noting that the aesthetics, including color, are negotiable. "This is not a jail fence."
Stark said Union Pacific wants to improve safety at all its rail lines, which span 23 states, because each death takes a toll on the victim's family, railroad employees and the company because all incidents require a full investigation.
Although Union Pacific is asking for public funding for the Davis project, the company also has invested $3.5 billion of its own money on its rail line improvement projects, Stark said.
Projects have been completed in Fresno, Oakland, Richmond and Live Oak in the past two months, she said. Davis is next because it is a high-volume station, with 354 trains passing through weekly, she said.
The City Council decision was unanimous and came after hearing from more than a dozen speakers during public comment. Many of the speakers live in the Davis Mobile Estates, a mobile home park on Olive Drive, and admitted to crossing the tracks as a shortcut to the downtown.
"I do it every day," said Jon Li, who lives on Slatter's Court on Olive Drive. "It's been safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. I've done it for 23 years."
Several claimed crossing the tracks, while illegal, is safer than taking the crosswalks at the busy Richards Boulevard intersection.
Alan Miller, who organized a protest at the train station in December, said he is not convinced that Union Pacific has the public interest at heart.
In the past 20 years, there have been 14 deaths on railroad tracks in Davis, Miller said. Some were suicides and many were drunken accidents, he said, but the victims all had one thing in common -- not one of them was "a sober, happy person just trying to get from one side of the tracks to the other."
At least a dozen of the deaths would have occurred even if a fence existed, he said, so it seems Union Pacific's motive is to lower its private liability, rather than increase public safety.
It is not entirely a private liability issue because Amtrak, which is a government-owned corporation, also uses the tracks, Stark said after the meeting.
She emphasized that crossing train tracks is not only dangerous, it is illegal.
A study in 2008 by a group of UC Davis students counted 387 illegal crossings at the tracks in just three days. Ninety-eight of those crossings were made by school-age children.
Reach Crystal Lee at clee@... or (530) 747-8057.
[BATN: See also:
Davis residents seeking safe track crossing protest UP fence plan
Comment: Davis residents need safe track crossings -- not fences