Stay Off the Tracks! (Except During Our Cleanup)

track walkWhen is it legal to walk on railroad tracks?  Only when you have the express permission of the owner/operator, are under oversight, and have signed an official liability waiver — i.e., pretty much never.  Except for during the Community Cleanup we’ll be doing on Sunday October 29 NOVEMBER 12 from 2 to 4pm.  Come by Kidsburg in Hufnagle Park to get instructions and supplies and give us a hand.

The railroad tracks in Lewisburg may not look like much of a hazard, but even a stationary rail car can be very dangerous.  Furthermore, in a town like ours, there are so many that assume the site is entirely in bounds that the rail line incurs damage simply from the wear and tear of foot traffic.  In other places, railroads work to keep out atv users which cause erosion and other damage, but here beaten walking paths are a hazard.  Worn paths are further exacerbated by stormwater runoff; that erosion creates additional problems which can impair the function of the line.

hollidaysburg-pa-4235224It is true that Lewisburg doesn’t have tracks or a rail yard like the one you’ll find bisecting Hollidaysburg.  But you would also think, given the generous number of legal crossings in place, we could manage to stay in the public realm.  Hollidaysburg has a severe “connectivity” problem.  Their lovely canal basin park (in green) is only accessible by a very roundabout route thanks to the obstacle presented by so many tracks.  Their town is seriously hampered by these obstructions.  There are 7 tracks between the park and downtown; and don’t even ask about the railyard to the east.  We have just one track with plenty of crossings.  And we need to learn not to abuse this.  Please stick to public space and public rights-of-way.

According to a 2008 national study conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration the typical trespasser fatality is a 38-year-old male, often under-educated and frequently under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  The profile of trespassers here in Lewisburg doesn’t match that.  We have, unfortunately, a mix of young and old almost identical to those on our sidewalks.  The FRA did their study in part to move towards a more effective education campaign.  But national awareness campaigns are perhaps not where we need to be looking.  Instead we need to create a culture of respect for property and the law – and if the end result is a slightly less convenient path, then we need to work together to improve the paths that are within the public sphere (cf the mention below of the proposals to extend the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail further south as part of the Bull Run Greenway Plan).

Beyond the hazard to life and limb and the issue of property damage, improper use of the rail right of way also has clear consequences for litter in town.  During cleanups in the Bull Run Neighborhood, it becomes very clear that litter gets carried downhill by the elements and that the high point in the park and surrounding landscape are the railroad tracks.  And that the tracks have lots of trash on them.

Which is interesting because it is illegal for people, the source of the trash, to be on the tracks at all.

Please let this serve as a reminder that state law prohibits people from being on the tracks; it is trespassing to walk across or along the tracks without an invitation or permission from the owner.  The railroad and the line operator would like to have more emphatic barriers in place.  The fact that there is no fence between the railroad tracks and the park and playground means that the community is being asked to exercise self-control and not walk on the tracks without the physical reminders in place.

It seems likely that people already know they are not supposed to be walking on the tracks.  They do it anyway.  (They also know they are not supposed to be littering.  They do that anyway, too.)  Let’s show that we are worthy of that trust.

Consider this a sign that we need to make a better route.

Consider this a sign that we need to make a better route.

It seems likely that people will continue to use this illegal route until they have a better alternative.  The Bull Run Greenway Project identified this as a priority issue.  The greenway is intended to provide connections for pedestrians and cyclists between Market St and the Bucknell Campus, between the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail and the confluence of Bull Run Creek and the Susquehanna River.  The original Lewisburg Neighborhoods Task Force Report showed a pedestrian bridge connecting St Catherine St to Hufnagle Park, but the current plan update recommends such a crossing more directly address the typical path of movement, also known as a desire line, which is more southerly.  While S 6th St has been envisioned as being transformed into a pedestrian corridor that still allows vehicular access, there is no expectation that there would be a single path for pedestrians.  There would — there should — be a number of possible routes, a transportation network.

In the meantime, please control yourself and remind your friends and neighbors too.  Stay off the tracks – for safety, for maintenance, and for Lewisburg’s sake.  Except for during the clean up on the 29th.  See you then.