A common sight where railroad tracks run near residences and schools. Young people in Napa viewed from an approaching train engine. Described as a daily occurrence, one reportedly played chicken with the locomotive after the photo was taken - jumping off the tracks with seconds to spare.
Kids and Trains Don't Mix
Objections to the VMT/Orcem proposal to reactivate the rail line cutting across town have emphasized the noise and unavoidable interruptions to traffic flow and emergency response vehicles. The discussion surrounding child safety has mainly focused on the tons of air pollutants the project would release into south Vallejo neighborhoods where the children already suffer alarming rates of respiratory illness. We’ve also talked at length about the health and safety impacts of running hundreds of heavy diesel trucks through neighborhood streets every day.
There’s another threat to our children that would come with a reactivated rail corridor we haven’t talked much about, and one more reason heavy industry does not fit in twenty-first century south Vallejo. To reach the south Vallejo waterfront, the rail line in question must traverse the City. It runs past parks and a high school, and cuts across many neighborhood pedestrian short cuts. Kids and freight trains are a dangerous combination. In fact, railroads played a major role in creating our current attractive nuisance laws. The legal notion that a landowner could be held responsible for injury to a trespassing child was first referred to as the "turntable doctrine," after railroad turntables. The term "attractive nuisance" can be traced to one of these cases, in which the court found a railroad turntable so attractive to children that its presence was equivalent to an express invitation onto the land.
The Child Safety and Abuse Prevention Program of the Global Children’s Fund includes a section on rail traffic and child safety. They caution:
“Child safety around trains and train tracks doesn't command the same attention that cars or bicycles do, yet trains remain a steadily consistent killer. Each year there are around 400-500 pedestrian train deaths. Many of these involve children and teens. Teens are especially likely to be struck by trains, for a couple of reasons:
1) They are more likely to be out and about on their own, and
2) They frequently listen to loud music with headphones, and thus may not hear a train if walking along the track.
Train tracks that run alongside middle schools or high schools are especially dangerous, since kids use them both as shortcuts and as hangout spots. Many kids are killed when they become stuck in the tracks or are otherwise fooling around. Or they play games to run up and see if they can touch it. A child stumbles on a railroad tie, and is cut in half as they fall on the tracks.”
In addition to the fatalities, children continue to suffer life-altering injuries and amputations from accidentally falling on tracks while playing with moving trains. It might be easy to shrug and blame the kids or their parents, but if we as a community were foolish enough to accept that risk for such negligible reward, we would all bear responsibility. Finishing a final environmental report or deploying a fiber optic network can't magically make fundamental issues of incompatibility with our neighborhoods and the safety of our children vanish in a big puff of CEQA smoke.
The promised economic revival based on a shiny new port and shipping center was never going to happen, because there is zero demand for such a facility. There's a big surplus of unused port capacity around the Bay already developed and sitting idle. The Bay Commission will not amend the Bay Plan to allow new development for even more. The cement plant would only use a quarter of the VMT terminal capacity, and the environmental report doesn’t tell us anything about what will happen with the other three quarters beyond five to ten years of a sixty-five year lease. No, we have no need to waste further resources to produce a final version of that now-useless environmental document.
We have every confidence that our Councilmembers will agree with the recommendation of the Chamber of Commerce, the School Board, our City staff, the Planning Commission, and the voting public. The children of Vallejo are depending on our Council to make the right choice when an appeal of the Planning Commission decision comes before them, and we trust that they will.
View from a locomotive when the abandoned rail line was still active. The train is arriving at the waterfront on the way to Mare Island from south Vallejo, as the traffic arm comes down. If the VMT/Orcem permits had not been denied by the Planning Commission, this engine might have re-appeared eight times a week with 50 freight cars behind it.