Help With Illegal Campers

Too bad it had to come to this, but thankful for the railroad’s help, as this story from the Sacramento Bee reports.

An excerpt.

Trains along the popular Capitol Corridor are running later than before, and homeless camps are partly to blame.

Rail officials say more people have trespassed on train tracks in the last year, forcing engineers at times to hit the brakes to avoid a possible crash – and at times tragically unable to. That’s left trains loaded with commuters or freight grinding to a halt in the middle of nowhere.

Capitol Corridor board chair Lucas Frerichs said the issue is foremost about human safety. But, it’s also a business problem.

“Frankly, we have a business to run, a service to the public. If people can’t depend on the train being on time, they will choose other options,” he said.

His train system, which connects the capital city and Silicon Valley, has seen its on-time record dip dramatically in the last year. Fifteen percent of trains were late arriving to their destination stations last month.

The reasons aren’t limited to trespassing. Agency officials say the rail line’s problems with track signals, bridge closures and mechanical issues have been higher than usual. The number of vehicle strikes at street crossings has tilted up as well.

Trespassers, though, represent an unnerving wild card, rail officials say.

Train engineers frequently see people walking along rail lines in Sacramento and the Bay Area, Capitol Corridor head David Kutrosky said.

“It’s unfortunately becoming more common,” Kutrosky said.

That’s prompted several rail agencies locally to launch crackdowns, including a joint effort starting this month between the Capitol Corridor and Union Pacific freight rail company, which owns the tracks used by many passenger services in California.

The problem has become significant enough that Kutrosky sent an email last week to passengers asking them to report any encampments or large piles of trash they notice along the tracks while on their train ride.

He said he and his crews have seen camps in secluded and wooded areas recently in Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis in the capital region, and Suisun City, Hercules, Berkeley, Oakland and Fremont in the Bay Area.

Capitol Corridor officials did not provide crash numbers requested by The Bee, as of Friday. But a spokesman for the Union Pacific said three people were hit by trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

If a person is killed by a train, it may be held in place for two to three hours as coroners, police and track inspectors do post-mortem work, officials said. That creates a domino effect, slowing passenger and freight trains from Sacramento to San Jose.

But near misses are a problem as well, Kutrosky said. If a person is on the tracks or it appears like they may step onto the rails, “an engineer will turn all the brakes at once and go into emergency braking applications.” Once a train stops, he said, “it takes 10 minutes to reset the engine,” he said.

Other rail agencies around Sacramento report similar issues, as homeless numbers in the capital region and elsewhere rise.

A count last July in Sacramento County found 3,665 people living without permanent shelter, a 30 percent increase from the number counted in 2015.

Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs said homeless camps are not a new issue, but the problem is getting more attention. “It has become a more highlighted issue throughout the state. Sacramento and San Jose, those are the key spots here.”

A spokeswoman for Sacramento Regional Transit, which operates light-rail trains, said her agency is spending more time and resources in the last few years patrolling its tracks and closing down homeless encampments.

That included breaking up a large camp near tracks a few weeks ago at Arcade Creek and Roseville Road in the North Sacramento area where the creek passes under the Union Pacific, Amtrak and Sacramento Regional Transit rail lines.

Retrieved April 15, 2018 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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