Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Railroaded at the Tracks

This is a column that I had published in the Kings County Record recently.  There were a number of people fined locally on the same day for the same offense, but there were also a number of people let go with warnings.  There was no bulletin to educate people or let people know that CN would be more strictly be enforcing this law either.  Suddenly what had been accepted practice was no longer accepted and I was not happy to be made an example of.  
It has been in the local news lately that CN Rail has been issuing fines to those who trespass on their right of way.  It has created a bit of controversy, although, most I talked to seem opposed to the manner in which this whole issue of trespassing has been handled by CN.  Now, before I can discuss this any further, I have to make something clear.  According to CN, I am a criminal, or at least that was the way I was made to feel the day they issued me a ticket for $124.50.

The day had been going smoothly and I was in the downtown doing my weekly banking and mail run for work.  I parked my car out behind the bank with the railway tracks behind me.  I walked toward Main Street and the front of the bank whistling a country tune I had been listening to on the drive.  The ladies at the bank were friendly as always and I left carrying my mail that needed some postage.  I went back by my car and over the tracks toward the Post Office on Maple Avenue, like I have done a hundred times or more in my life.  I paid for my postage and sent my reports off to the government departments I answer to.  I come out the door and break into a light jog back across Maple Avenue to build momentum to carry me up and over the hill on the tracks, still whistling, with no criminal intentions on my mind.

Suddenly a car horn beeps and I see a police car with an officer beckoning me to come to him.  Thinking nothing of it I walk to the car, despite the fact that my car was closer.  I thought maybe he wanted some help with something.  To my surprise he greets me with a gruff and abrupt "Do you speak English or French?" without even leaving his car.

"Excuse me?" I ask.  He explains that I was breaking the law by crossing over the tracks and that people who walk along the tracks are often "irresponsible and stupid."  I explain that I have walked the same route a number of times and only to cross and that I never walk parallel to the tracks.  He asks if I had seen a sign stating it was an offence.  Of course I never did because I didn't even look as I didn't feel there was a need to.  The discussion led eventually to me receiving my ticket as I watch two youth cross over the tracks with no action taken against them. 

The whole situation was discomforting and I was a bit frustrated by the way in which the officers treated me.  The passenger railways have been on hard times and if this is the way they treat passengers then I can see why.  I would think instead of taking a confrontational approach to the issue they would work with the public to solve the safety concerns.  My recommendation would be to hold public consultations to develop safe pedestrian crossing areas and establish fences to maintain the right of way.  Currently there are not enough crossings for pedestrians and these could be tunnels under the tracks or bridges over them. 

Personal safety is important and I understand CN's concern about people crossing their right of way.  It is not the respectable people going about their daily business that typically result in accidents on CN's right of way and because I voluntarily approached the officer I feel that I was wrongly made an example of.  I will gladly offer to help CN develop a more public friendly, locally designed solution to the safety issues they face in Sussex and in the process maybe help them increase their client base as opposed to shrink it.  Of course I would have to ask for considerable leniency on my ticket.

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