By Stephanie Butzer
The Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department has started to crack down on people trespassing on railroad tracks in Alamance County.
As part of the Trespasser Abatement Program, officers pick specific locations where illegal crossings are or may become an issue. One of the first checks of the year has focused on the Burlington and Elon area, which is on the list because of fatalities on the tracks both this year and last year.
Michael Smith with the Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department said Elon became a place to focus on because many students walk across over the train tracks as they make their way to class and back home. Thus far, there have been no recent train-related fatalities in Elon.
“There’s a lot of students taking shortcuts across the tracks in other-than-specified crossings,” Smith said. “They’re putting their lives at risk when they do that and it’s technically trespassing.”
Last week, the Norfolk Southern Railroad Police Department contacted businesses in Burlington and Elon to let them know they would be coming by to give warning tickets to students and residents who were seen crossing the tracks in an illegal area.
Cliff Parker, chief of the town of Elon Police Department, said his department was contacted by Norfolk Southern and asked to assist with the Trespasser Abatement Program in that specific area. Parker described the program as an “information campaign.”
“They’re interested in getting information and reminders out to students,” Parker said. “It was for the purpose of educating students as well as any civilians about pedestrian safety and only using the designated crosswalks on the tracks.”
In spring 2010, the N.C. Railroad Co. opened a pedestrian tunnel at Elon that connects Lebanon and Trollinger avenues
According to data from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, there were four fatalities along train tracks in Alamance County in 2012, but none in 2011 or 2010.
In February, an Amtrak train struck and killed a pedestrian near the railway overpass at Fisher Street and East Webb Avenue. In January, an Amtrak train struck a car that had been trapped between the railroad crossing arms at the intersection of North Main Street and Webb Avenue.
In Burlington, downtown businesses like the Burlington Woman’s Club Thrift Shop have posters hanging in the window warning people walking downtown to steer clear of the tracks. A stack of pamphlets from Norfolk Southern sits on the counter inside.
“Trespassing: Your unauthorized use of Railroad Right of Way could be your last trip anywhere,” the front of the pamphlet reads.
The North Carolina Railroad Co. owns the state’s rail lines and leases them to Norfolk Southern for rail service. Norfolk Southern’s police force enforces the laws along the tracks.
Smith said he thinks a major reason why people trespass on train tracks is because they do not know they are private property. Smith said he wants to get the word out to inform students and people in the surrounding community that the dangers are real and can be fatal when ignored.
“That was the big goal for us: to educate the public,” he said.