Many students take the short cut on their way to school. Photo by Raquel Redding- Mustang Daily

Many students cross railroad tracks daily to get to school; some look both ways before they cross, while others listen to music and don’t look at all. Yet no matter how they cross, they could be fined up to $2,000.

Crossing railroad tracks in non-designated areas is considered trespassing and could result in a warning, fines or arrest. Student housing located across the tracks from Cal Poly makes illegal crossings popular because it is faster and in some cases easier.

English junior Natalie Maris said she crosses the tracks frequently to get to school from her house.

“Going around can add 10 minutes or more, so it is worth it to cross, but now that I know about tickets, I’m not so sure,” Maris said.

Designated areas to cross are built for pedestrians or at roadway crossings where there are gates. As long as the person is not crossing when the gates are down and the lights are flashing, it is legal to cross tracks. The other way to cross is the Mustang Village crossway that was built just last year near the Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration Statistics for 2009, California had the highest trespassing fatalites out of all the states, with 59 fatal accidents due to crossing tracks illegally.

Trespassing is getting in the right-of-way of a train, meaning any part of railroad property, said Aaron Hunt, director of Corporate Relations & Media for Union Pacific Railroads. Union Pacific Railroads is the top operator of railroad tracks for North America and is in charge of the tracks in San Luis Obispo.

“Trespassing on railroad property could be standing on the gravel next to the tracks,” Hunt said.

Railroad property or railroad right-of-way depends on where the tracks are, but according to Operation, an organization to help educate about railroads, train overhang is at least three feet from the tracks and potential loose straps could add to the overhang.

“We are trying to convince people that railroad right-of-way is a dangerous place. We’re not doing this maliciously,” Hunt said.

Safety is the main reason for giving out tickets and warnings. Since crossing the tracks illegally is a federal offense, Hunt said seeing people continuously cross the tracks warrants tickets, but warnings are sometimes just as effective.

“We work hard to inform and educate as much as possible,” Hunt said. “For one out of 10 encounters, we give out a ticket. We will go the extra mile to educate. People don’t want to pay a fine.”

To deter people from crossing tracks and possibly risking a ticket, the railroad tracks along Cal Poly have clear signs giving warning about trespassing, but the fact that a person can be fined up to $2,000 is not made clear on the signs. Many students are aware that crossing the tracks is illegal, but almost no one knew the fine could be so large.

Psychology senior Tiffany Hulse said she knew it was trespassing, but she was unaware of the fine.

“I didn’t know it could be that much; that is a whole quarter’s tuition,” she said. “I see a lot of people that cross them not looking, so I can see why they have fines. It comes down to responsibility, and a lot of people don’t take responsibility for themselves.”

According to University Police Department safety and education go hand in hand. University police officer Ray Easter said fences are being put up around the tracks to deter students from crossing, because it comes down to the safety of the students.

“We don’t give out citations very often. The ones that do get tickets are walking in between or parallel to the tracks. It’s all about safety,” Easter said. “If a student is very intoxicated, what happens when they fall?”

Join the Conversation


  1. Union Pacific are TROLLS!! Who else carves out a line through our city and then forbids people to cross and fines them once they do?? The railroad obviously a major hindrance to the transportation of students to campus. Where I live, it would take about 10 more minutes to walk school which is completely unreasonable, and does not even make sense to me as I am a rational and efficient college student. I understand they are worried about people’s safety but come on, how hard is it really to be hit by a train, you gotta be zoning out pretty tough. Im sorry but the world is a dangerous place and you need to look out for YOURSELF! What happens if a student is intoxicated and falls onto the train track? They die because that is extremely irresponsible and just plain stupid!
    The main problem is that our legal system set up so that we can sue once we commit one of these careless acts. Union Pacific does not care about your safety, they care about getting sued once someone does something stupid. Now perfectly rational and cautious people cannot simply cross the train tracks because they can be fined, another case where one bad apple ruins it for everyone.
    Just be safe and reasonable about it and there wont be any problems. We are college students which means we are smart enough to look both ways before crossing a 6 ft wide piece of track and can hear a train coming from the opposite side of town

  2. Sean,

    You need to go take History 101, the railroad was there before the college and 99% of the town was built. The railroad helped build the United States by laying rails which allowed people to travel and settle. The Southern Pacific (not UP) certainly didn’t show up to a fully-developed San Luis Obispo and carve out the town like you claim.

    The college and the cities should have built their infrastructure over or under the railroad tracks, and not build them so poorly to where people are tempted to trespass. The railroad hasn’t changed and won’t change. It’s the city’s fault for poor planning.

    1. Exactly, thats why the railroad companies should be more understanding as to why people NEED to cross the train tracks to go about their daily lives and not fine poor college students ridiculous amounts of money for trying to go to school.

  3. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! This is confounded stupididitty. If a student can’t be trusted to look both ways over a 8′ wide section of railroad track before crossing……well. Don’t you have to pass the SAT test to get into college, or are there that many dummies around. Just fine them if they are wearing headphones when they cross the tracks for pete sakes. Who is the idiot? Why don’t the city fathers build a damn footbridge or underpass for spit sakes. REDICULOUS !!!!!

  4. $2000??????! what a joke. this makes me wanna punch something. id have to be high, drunk, and have a heroin needle up my neck to not hear that train coming.

  5. It’s only a misdemeanor, NOT a federal offense. Fine is “not to exceed $500” and is almost always waived. Be rebel and cross. Don’t allow yourself to be opressed. LEAVE US ALONE!
    It is unlawful in California for anyone to enter or remain upon the property of any railroad where
    entry, presence or conduct upon the property interferes with or interrupts the safe and efficient operation of
    any locomotive. A violation of this section is a misdemeanor under California law. Cal. [Penal] Code § 369i
    (West 1999). Also see Cal. [Penal] Code § 554 (West 1999) regarding posting of property.”

  6. Railroader is right on the money about the poor city planning in SLO. The Right-of-Way location where these fatalities occur is on a strip of land adjacent to california blvd, between foothill blvd and mill st (over 3600 feet long) which has no designated crossings. Further, this strip of California Blvd has no designated crossing either (which I believe is the SLO city method of discouraging track crossing). There is footbridge (which cost $1.5 million) that connects a downtown neighborhood to the train station. There is a footpath underpass in the neighborhoods southeast of broad and tank farm intersection. Both of these benefit families that do not want to walk the long way to a road crossing. But no such thing for the 20K+ students who find themselves crossing the tracks multiple times every day! Yet another example of how SLO does not respect one of its most significant economic benefactors.

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