November editorial: NCTD finds itself fenced in

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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RT&S Editor-in-Chief Bill Wilson.

Little feet are better for climbing.

That was the case for me anyway when someone hit a home run in my backyard growing up. We had two dogs so the rear property was outlined by a chain-link fence. It was not the best to look at, but to my Dad it was the most affordable to look at back in the 1970s. The holes in the links also were the perfect fit for my Nikes when I had to retrieve a long ball. When I was really young home runs involved official baseballs and wooden bats, but once that became too easy, and a neighbor’s window was broken of which I have no knowledge of, we switched to Wiffle Balls and Wiffle Bats. A foot in one of the holes was all I needed to swing my opposite leg on top of the fence railing and to then hop over. The routine might have caught a shin here or there, but never resulted in serious injury. 

However, my growing feet became obsolete in the process in no time, and I had to rely more on upper body strength at the start. 

Residents in Del Mar, Calif., are relying on the strength of their voice in an attempt to break a link to any type of fence that would run along railroad tracks that sit atop the Del Mar bluffs. Commuter and freight trains rumble through daily, and the North County Transit District (NCTD) was set on installing a 6-ft-high chain link fence to prevent people (mainly beach-goers) from stepping across railroad property. The NCTD does not want any carnage, and the agency claims many have been struck by trains over the years. 

To the affluent property owners, a chain link fence more suitable for a young boy’s Wiffle Ball game in the suburbs of Chicago was not the look they were going for, and claim the construction of the barrier would deplete the tourist population and put a knife to property values which have enjoyed the helium of real estate hyperbole over the years. 

So the NCTD asked its consultant to go back to the drawing board for the sake of the wealthy. What came back was a significantly dumbed down version of the original plan. Oh yes, the 6-ft-tall black chain link fence still had its place along the railroad, but it was drastically reduced. Introduced was a sleek 4-ft-high post-and-cable version. Also, the fencing would be closer to the track so it would not be as much in sight for the homeowners who only have eyes for the glorious beach and ocean. 

Problem solved, right? Well, the consultant did not exactly hit it out of the park. After seeing sketches of the improvement, Del Mar Mayor Terry Gaasterland said the new fence would be devastating to the entire region. He claimed it did not solve the problem, and that it would be terrible to lose the last stretch of accessible coastal bluff in San Diego County. There was supposed to be a city council meeting in mid-October to go over the 2.0 version. My guess is it did not go well. 

A 6-ft-tall chain link fence seems appropriate to prevent adults from treading across the tracks. Remember, the holes are useless for climbing, and it would take a healthy dose of chest and arm muscles to finally swing over. Let’s also remember there needs to be the ability to launch baskets, towels, bags, and dogs over the barrier. However, the 4-ft-tall post-and-cable fence seems more easily conquerable to me. Feet of all sizes could balance on the cable leading up to the swing over. I believe the NCTD is now putting public acceptance in front of safety. If it’s going there, what is the point? Now, a barrier is a barrier, which would require the effort and trouble to defeat. Most of us have found the need to climb since childhood. We are natural climbers and are willing to take on the feat … even if we risk breaking something. 

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Categories: Commuter/Regional, Freight, Passenger, Rail News, Railroad News, Safety/Training, Track Structure
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