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Track crossers in SLO, repelled by steel fence, crash wood one

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

UPDATE 4:34 p.m.: A spokesman for Union Pacific said Tuesday that the company now plans to add an additional 60 feet of fencing along the railroad tracks in San Luis Obispo.

The new fence will extend to the end of the property of a nearby apartment owner who has been struggling with trespassers kicking down his fence since Union Pacific installed fencing earlier this month to block a well-used path leading from Murray Street to California Boulevard across the tracks.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that since the new fencing was installed about a month ago a dramatic decrease in trespassers has been noted. “The extension seems to make sense from a safety perspective,” Hunt said.

Original story: A fence erected by Union Pacific as a safeguard to prevent people from crossing the railroad tracks in San Luis Obispo may have simply created a new problem.

The fencing successfully blocked a well-used path leading from Murray Street to California Boulevard across the tracks — but now a nearby apartment complex owner is struggling with the repercussions.

Bob Gienger, who owns a six-unit apartment complex adjacent to the tracks, said that people are now kicking in his wooden slatted fence to cross through.

“They haven’t solved anything,” Gienger said. “What they’ve done is shoved the problem off onto my property.”

Union Pacific recently installed about 1,000 feet of fencing, prompted by the 2010 death of a 17-year-old who was hit and killed by a train after using the path from Murray Street to reach California Boulevard.

San Luis Obispo Public Works Director Jay Walter took pictures of the damage to Gienger’s fence Monday and emailed it to Union Pacific.

“My suggestion to them is that the fence may not have been taken far enough south to be tied into a more substantial fence that can’t be kicked in,” Walter said. The railroad does not intend to extend the fencing farther, said Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific.He said the existing fence’s placement was made after studying trespassing patterns.

“We always have to work to enhance awareness of the need to stay off railroad tracks and only cross at designated areas,” he said. “We benefit from proactive collaboration with local law enforcement and elected officials and we are going to continue to remind folks, and issue citations when necessary, that it is illegal to cross railroad tracks.”

The city has long planned a pedestrian walkway and fence along California Boulevard, but progress has been slow.A 500-foot portion of a bicycle and pedestrian trail that connects Cal Poly to California Boulevard was recently completed. It includes a wrought-iron fence to prevent people from trespassing on the railroad tracks.

The city hopes to start construction on a $250,000 project next fall that would extend the path and the fencing south toward the Highway 101 undercrossing on California Boulevard, next to an existing sidewalk.

The city’s next planned phase, for which funding still needs to be secured, would construct a bicycle bridge over Highway 101 at Phillips Lane near the CHP headquarters to provide passage for pedestrians and cyclists over the railroad tracks that bisect the city.

Walter said the city is still in the process of acquiring the state approvals it needs to construct the bridge there and doesn’t expect it to be done for at least two years.

The bridge was originally intended to cross over Highway 101 along California Boulevard but in late 2009 Union Pacific denied the city the easement it needed to put it there, Walter said.

In the meantime, Gienger said he is concerned about the liability of students using his property to access the railroad tracks.

And he doesn’t want to see anyone else get hurt.

“I am mainly worried about some kid walking across and tripping and falling,” Gienger said. “But I can’t repair the fence once a day, and I can’t afford to have some security guard there 24/7.”

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