REGION — Law enforcement officers from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department recently began stepping up enforcement efforts for trespassing on North County railroad tracks.
Since January officers have been writing tickets to anyone up and down the coast who crosses the tracks or is walking or jogging alongside them.
But the violations aren’t coming without warnings. More than a year ago North County Transit District installed several signs beside the tracks informing people it is dangerous and illegal to walk on the rail line. “No Trespassing” has been stenciled on the sides of the tracks.
Fliers were given to anyone walking, jogging or crossing where those movements aren’t permitted.
The effort started as part of a pilot program in Del Mar that would eventually be used to develop a larger safety campaign focused on NCTD’s approximately 80 miles of track.
Ticketing was supposed to begin about 12 months ago but NCTD opted to continue outreach and education for another eight or nine months.
Del Mar was selected because of its many hot spots, or areas where trespassers are often observed, according to NCTD officials.
They say Del Mar is an area of concern for engineers because there is a high volume of trespassing there.
It is likely a problem area because there is only one legal crossing in the city, on Coast Boulevard in between Powerhouse Community Center and Seagrove Park. Anyone wanting to surf or get to the beach at the south end of the city must walk about a mile to 15th Street to hit the sand without breaking the law.
In the past eight years there have been nearly 10 serious or fatal incidents in Del Mar in which there was a collision with a person or vehicle, according to NCTD statistics.
It may not seem like an extraordinary number of accidents. “One is too many,” Jaime Becerra, NCTD’s chief of transit enforcement, said.
Surfers and others who enjoy walking or running alongside the tracks say accidents can be prevented with common sense and moving when trains are passing.
“These are trains traveling better than 75 mph in some locations,” Becerra said. “People don’t always have time to get out of the way.
“There have been too many tragedies in the right of way,” he added. “We are trying to protect people, our passengers and our property. We don’t want anyone to get hurt and we don’t want any of our equipment to have to go into an emergency stop. It’s mostly about preserving life.”
On April 29 Del Mar resident David Meza was walking along the bluffs, as he has done for 20 years, he said, when he saw an officer ticketing a woman.
“I thought she had done something wrong,” he said. “Then he approached me and asked me if I knew I was doing something wrong. I told him no and he reached for his ticket book.”
Meza received a citation to appear in Vista Court for what he said was “walking on the California beach.”
“I asked him, ‘How about giving me a warning?’ and he said, ‘No,’” Meza said.
Meza said he was not the only person ticketed that day. He said two sheriffs “threatened to arrest a Del Mar woman, who was just walking her dog, and this caused a crowd of onlookers. A nice couple from out of town were also given notices.”
The right of way extends 20 to 25 feet from either side of the tracks. Anyone crossing the tracks or walking between them and the posted signs is trespassing and should expect to be ticketed.
Meza said he received a flier last year and is aware of the signs.
“They say no trespassing and have a logo with someone crossing the tracks,” he said. “I thought that was illegal, not walking beside them. Other people I’ve talked to think the same thing.
“I understand the danger of the trains but they can’t build a tunnel or a bridge, so there’s no other way to get close to the beach,” Meza added.