BURKE, Va. — Police from Fairfax County and Norfolk Southern railways have launched a major enforcement push to remind people not to walk on railroad tracks.
Four people have been killed in the last 18 months on the tracks in Northern Virginia, at locations where Virginia Railway Express operates commuter train service. Norfolk Southern owns the tracks on the Manassas Line.
Police were at three locations in Fairfax County — including the Burke VRE station, where the problem is acute.
“We have a major cut through here where people like to access one area to another by crossing the tracks,” said George Kaufmann, Special Agent with Norfolk Southern Police. “We have an overpass that is nearby, but it takes a little bit longer.
“So what people will do is cut through across the tracks. But the problem is we have a number of trains going at 60 or 70 miles per hour.”
Fairfax County 2nd Lt. Eric Ivancic has witnessed some of these people crossing the tracks and some of the injuries that people can suffer.
“It’s a matter of complacency,” Ivancic said. “When you couple that with the prevalence of earbud headphones and smartphones, people are constantly distracted.”
Minutes later, Adil Gour came walking down the side of the tracks and stepped over a broken fence.
Gour was unaware police were cracking down. He also didn’t notice the reporters or the TV cameras filming. Fairfax County Police took his information, then let him go with a warning.
“I go to Starbucks every day,” Gour said. “I probably cross this more than three times a day, if I’m not driving. I’d rather not walk all the way around. I’m a human and I’m trying to look for the easiest way around.”
An excuse that police admit they have heard many times.
“If we save one life, it’s well worth the effort. It’s not worth the time saved if you’re injured or killed,” Kaufmann said.
People cross the tracks in front of signs telling them it is illegal, but Gour thinks people do it because it is easy to do.
“If you don’t want people to trespass, then put up a fence. It’s as simple as that. Somebody hops a fence, that is definitely trespassing,” he said.
High fencing immediately around the station is present, but a few hundred feet away, it is replaced with a small fence that has been ripped down.
“VRE put up this fencing as a courtesy to the community and you can see what the community has done to it,” Kaufmann said.
“They certainly don’t pay attention to the fencing if they’ve pushed it down to the ground,” Ivancic added.
Under Virginia law, trespassing on a railroad track is a class 4 misdemeanor. A first offense carries a fine up to $250 in court, but if you pay the fine without going to court, then it is lowered to $65.
Any subsequent offenses are legally considered a class 1 misdemeanor with fines up to $2500 and up to a year in jail, without an option to pay the fine and avoid court.