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$6,000 Fine for Train Track Trespassing

It's one of those laws that you might not know about, but beware: If you get caught taking a short cut on foot across a set of railroad tracks, you could face a costly ticket.

We received the following letter Monday by email from Livermore resident Laura Rensink, who says she's fighting a railroad trespassing citation she received June 7 from Union Pacific Railroad at Ventura Avenue. Rensink contends this popular footpath isn't adequately signed by the railroad as being illegal.

I have a story that needs printing. I was walking across the railroad tracks (on June 7) and was cited by a Union Pacific Police Officer as trespassing, even though I took less than 2 seconds to cross the tracks. I watched in disbelief when he wrote me a ticket and then told me I had a mandatory court date.

Today I went to court and sat through running red lights and speeding citations. Most fines were in the $150 to $600 range. I was near the end since it was alphabetical, and imagine my utmost surprise at being told the fine was over $6,000!!!! The judge would not dismiss the case or reduce the fine. She said I either had to pay it or plead "not guilty" and come back for a trial.

This is ridiculous! I had no idea that walking across the tracks was illegal. And then for the fee to be so outrageous has made me want to do something. I was going to pay the fine, thinking it was a few hundred dollars. But I can't afford $6,000. We need to have better signage and in Spanish, since the path I used is heavily used. I feel the people of Livermore need to be warned.

The other thing that has my blood boiling is that the officer said he was writing tickets because it was International Train Safety Day. I never heard of such a day, and when I Googled it and looked on Livermore Patch, no news site was reporting it. And he said up the tracks in a train were the mayor and media, watching gleefully as he handed out tickets. This is absurd. This is not the way to make people aware of a "Safety Day," and definitely not the American Way to punish the few to teach the many.

Editor's note: The Union Pacific officer likely was referring to International Level Crossing Awareness Day, which last year also took place on June 7.

It's unclear why the fine, which is a misdemeanor, is $6,000. In a 2011 article about train track citations published by the Cal Poly student newspaper, a Union Pacific representative said the trespassing fine was usually $100 to $200 but could be as high as $2,000. This seems to match language from the penal code covering train track trespassing (which is actually listed as a Health and Safety code violation). 

We have requested further details from Union Pacific and will update this story when we hear more.

BP August 01, 2012 at 12:21 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/national/14rail.html Actually it is a form of jury pool tampering giving a false impression that the railroad gives a flying flamingo about track safety. They illegally key the signals --- have a mock check point by the tracks and ticket people caught in the trap.
Rich Buckley August 01, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Good find BP!  Your NY-Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/national/14rail.html  BP, I can't help but notice that Judge Jack T. Marionneaux's instinctive, defensive response to being doggedly solicited by the rail company proxy PR group cited in the NY-Times railroad write up, was to head to a "grand jury investigation."  While the judge would have the power to probably instigate such an investigation, this is what I sense Laura should task the DA's office to look into cited here: http://livermore.patch.com/articles/railroad-track-citation-a-hefty-6-000#comment_4164468 Laura could probably get a dozen people or more, to sign a statement on the apparent abuse of the Health and Safety Codes being wrongfully used in our legal system by intensionally over stating penalties. Such absurdity of a $6000 fine is either likely to be a "typo" or "negligent and reckless." It is in these relatively small issues that great icebergs of wrongful fraud are found floating beneath the surface. I would sign on to such a complaint if she wanted others. It needs to be done professionally and soon however.  I understand that railroads feel they are naked in their liability as deep pockets, and have to play hard ball, but the level of apparent civil contempt does not serve their PR in the spirit I would want if I owned the company.  
Voter with an ID August 01, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Seems BP has been spending a little too much time hanging with the winos down at the track-side shanty town. Conspiracy theories promoted by the venerable (not) NY Times? What's next...black helicopters circling over the tracks?
BP August 01, 2012 at 03:56 PM
http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2012/08/01/livermore-woman-gets-6000-fine-for-using-railroad-shortcut/ Laura went to TV ---UP put in BRAND NEW SIGN
BP August 01, 2012 at 04:43 PM
http://www.nytimes.com/ref/national/deathonthetracks_index.html The NY Times reporter did a whole series on railroad wrongdoing and received a Pulitzer prize. The film made only went out on the air on a obscure satellite station. The one on overcharges I sent to him and he screwed it up. The state or somebody who was working for the state was stealing big buck Federal safety funds. He had enough evidence from a few people around the country to stop the railroads from robbing us blind but didn't go for the RR juggler.
Dan Arnhem August 01, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Excellent to see the story make it to CBS5. Shown at 11:00 PM and then today on the Noon News on CBS5. They have video on their site. I knew a TV station would instantly grab the story. It should be in the newspaper as well, so all citizens know the insane fine that can be leveled. Sorry for my prior skeptisim and doubt of your story, but I simply couldn't believe a $6,000 fine was possible. I still can't grasp it. It is a monumental outrage. I would walk up to those tracks and cross over without thinking about a potential fine. Sure, you carefully look both ways, but getting a $6,000 fine would be like returning to your parking meter and seeing a $1,500 ticket for a expired meter. Please keep us updated on the progress of the case. Anything over $300 is a outrageous strong-arm robbery by government. It is plain and simple government theft. Abuse. I would call this fine for such a simple violation, "cruel and unusual". That fine could be 3 months wages for many people. The people saying you deserve such a fine are without a heart. They have lost all perspective. I suppose if it was a $25,000 fine they would be saying the same thing.
Bob Canning August 01, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Best that I can tell, trains only operate on well defined tracks. But yet people get killed or injured by trains. I think the Train officer was correct in citing her. That is no different than getting cited for jaywalking or any of a myriad of things that can injure us. Fines are set by law, and if you don't like the law, try to change it. But as the old TV show said "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time.." Of course there are so many laws, rules and regulations, nobody can be reasonably expected to know all of them. However,that is a topic for a discussion on nanny states and government intrusion.
Dan Arnhem August 01, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Bob, a $6,000 fine for this is "cruel and unusual" This fine, for a act most didn't even realize could result in a fine, is so far beyond reasonable, that at first I thought Laura was just pulling a joke on the Patch. Turns out her facts are true. It is a good example of a government allowed agency acting like a heartless bully. $6,000 is 3 months salary for many people. It would be like returning to a overdue parking meter and finding a $1,500 ticket. If you say, $6,000 is the fine, which no one could have imagined, then how about if it was $25,000, would you be saying the same thing? NO, $300 or even a crazy $600, but $6,000 is madness. Totally out of wack. Everyone thinks the current jacked up red light tickets at $450 are crazy high, but this makes those look like chump-change.
Kristofer Noceda (Editor) August 01, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Hi all we received the following statement today from Aaron Hunt, Union Pacific: We collaborated with Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) to stage a UP CARES event, Union Pacific Crossing Accident Reduction Education and Safety, in Livermore. This is part of our ongoing effort to educate communities about the dangers of crossing railroad tracks in any location other than a designated public railroad crossing. Designated railroad crossings are the only place where it is safe and legal to cross railroad tracks. Often pedestrians, cyclists and others assume that it is permissible to cross railroad tracks as long as they do not see a train. Union Pacific trains operate at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour in this area and the ACE trains often operate much faster than that. It is critical for people to understand that railroad property can be occupied by trains at the least expected moment, day or night. Union Pacific Police do not assign a dollar amount to the cost of a citation. The judge or court determine that.
BP August 01, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Mikey buys a $2.3 million second house. Safety.FHWA@dot.gov Jul 30 (2 days ago) to me Dear Mr. P, Thank you for your interest in railway-highway crossing safety. Each state is required to track the dollars spent on railway-highway crossing projects and also report on the effectiveness of the program. This is required per the United States Code, Section 130. If you would like to review a report to see which projects were completed, please let us know which state and year you are interested in and we will send that information to you. If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact our office. Thank you, FHWA Office of Safety Safety.fhwa@dot.gov From: bob todd [mailto:btpino40@gmail.com] Sent: Friday, July 20, 2012 1:31 AM To: FHWA, ExecSecretariat (FHWA) Subject: Railroad crossing fraud http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/legsregs/directives/notices/n4510743t1.htm Could someone explain why most state STIPs for their share of the railroad crossing budget is a fricking lump sum with NO statement of railroad crossing numbers or projects??? $220 million and the FHWA has no clue where it goes. No wonder people are murdered by trains EVERYDAY at unprotected crossings. What the railroads don't steal in overcharges the state people steal because NOBODY keeps tabs. Robert
The Real Anon August 01, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Jury nullification folks...if you get on this case, find Laura Rensink not guilty. I know I would, no matter if some judge has "instructed" me otherwise. And I hope someone will file a grand jury complaint about this abuse. If this $6K is not an error then clearly there is some kind of kickback going on between the court and the RR. Why would the court have any reason to break the law on the maximum amount of the fine otherwise? Most people who die on RR tracks are suicides, not accident victims. And most of the accident victims are too dumb, inebriated, and inattentive to survive for long anyway. If you are so inept as to be killed by a train, then you are equally likely to drink a bottle of rat poison, stick your finger in the electrical outlet, taunt the tigers at the zoo, or go boating all drunk at night with no lifejacket. Some hazard you could have avoided by not being an idiot will get you. The gene pool has a way of cleaning itself...trains are just a means to an end.
The Real Anon August 01, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Actually the RR may *consider* its tracks private property, but if not posted or secured, then it is legally considered public property open to the public....because there are no barriers to public entry. That is, if CA law is going to be consistent with decisions made by the State Supreme Court, which has ruled that a front yard of a home (private property) is a public space unless it has a physical barrier to restrict public access. It does not matter if you have any signs posted or not.
BP August 02, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Looks like the gene pool wash missed your parents their mouth. You haven't a clue on the cover ups. Poor---suicide. No family---suicide. If that don't work the RR cops stick a suicide print out off some web site in your vehicle at the station.
BP August 02, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Laura needs to back to the T.V. station and have the sign put in AFTER they ZOOMED in on removed. That's jury tampering in itself.
BP August 02, 2012 at 04:00 PM
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57484880-504083/wrong-side-of-the-tracks-calif-woman-fined-$6000-for-crossing-on-foot/ How do you not see the bright shiney new sign the country is asking.
Rich Buckley August 03, 2012 at 09:59 PM
This joint Union Pacific - Altamont Commuter Express - Traffic Court campaign is shameless and seems to clearly violate the codes that set the fine levels by a factor of 30-times! This is the sort of mutually planned contempt government has been using on us for too long at just about every level to control its citizens from garbage company fees being used as piggy banks for city overspending: http://tinyurl.com/3k8o3fm to "education by example" as used here by Traffic Court-ACE-UP link-up. Shameless and unacceptable on multiple levels. If this is ACE's attitude, and UP's attitude  and the court's attitude it will lead to civil break down. Laws that are abusive always backfire. Sheriff Mack speaks to this constitutional powers concern about 15:30- minutes into his YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiiFe2q8AxA&sns=em This may be a matter to bring to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as to who is setting fine lines inside the system; who's accepting instructions from who and why, and especially why does it exceed the code, which would seem to be a criminal act in falsifying fine levels under any intent. Pleasanton DA's office:  Phone: (925) 803-7171  Fax: (925) 803-7170  Email: askghj-da@acgov.org  Branch Head: Eileen McAndrew, Senior Deputy District Attorney If not that, then the people in the court system, perhaps the judge, maybe it's someone else, in cahoots with UP and ACE, should be hounded out of office. The sooner the better.
dan j cotton August 03, 2012 at 11:00 PM
i live where i had tracks running across the back side of my yard and would have rr personal walk thru my yard to get to rr cars and i could not fine them for tresspassing. what makes it legal for them to do it . i use to say it was because they knew i was related to jessie james ( 2nd cousin on moms side). they rr are the biggest thiefs around and have been ever since they started in this country.
BP August 11, 2012 at 05:31 AM
I believe if I was doing a report on railroads screwing people on tickets and THEN installing signs after the attention started I would finish the story. Of course that involves a little work.
Rich Buckley August 12, 2012 at 04:13 PM
PART 1 (of 2 parts) The evidence in Laura's $6000 Union Pacific trespass fine, on it's face, seems to point to a local level of highly questionable collaboration between Union Pacific and Traffic Court. If true, this type of purposeful collaboration is most probably a form of corrupt violation of law. Nothing in the state codes accessible online leads one to conclude the level of fines Laura has been leveled to be mandated by statute.  There is no help publicly offered from Federal level law enforcement to deal with Union Pacific. UP enjoys muti-state policing powers which requires special avenues to address apparent wrongs.  Traffic Court could stop this inequity but appears paralyzed. They could cite typographical error and reduce the fine to say $100 provided by statute for a first time offender. The DA could serve the public good to investigate this inequity but she remians silent. State local legislatures could calm the public concerns in a similar fashion but they are buried in their own local survival dances at election time. Likewise Federal candidates are each wrapped up in their own story boards. Untangling localized injustice does not fit anyone's polling data. Even a letter to Department Of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking guidance on which Federal agency to work through --- "See Something, Say Somthing" motto does not apply against government agencies caught up in racketeering schemes in apparent violation of law. 
Rich Buckley August 12, 2012 at 04:14 PM
PART 2 (of 2 parts) In short, the perfect tempest has landed once again right hear in our little teapot of Livermore, Ca. Why?  In addition to the reasons speculated above, there's heavy traffic on everyone's rail tracks and eggs have to be broken to make their fear-filled omlette and serve it too you hot.   DHS as our newest unwanted and unneeded Czar is knee-deep in image maintenance at the moment preparing Orwellian euphemisms to strip us of our constitutional rights:  --- FEMA detention camps along rail lines set to hold millions of us.  --- Banking failure containment globally around October. --- NDAA power consolidation to detain citizens        http://tinyurl.com/cbuh9h9  And we expect all this to come rolling to a stop for just for one, honest, loving, sensitive-spirit called "Laura" who lives in our teapot, to receive justice?  Yes. You're darn right we do!  Because when we do it right here, we start the process to enable a better future to unfold all the way back up this perverted line bringing light into the shadows. Somehow Laura matters in the big scheme. Let your light shine too. 
Laura August 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Just wanted to update...I went to trial court today and the Union Pacific police officer did not show up, so the judge dropped the charges. So I did not have to pay the $6000 fine, but I did pay $1500 for an attorney, since I felt I needed counsel on this whole thing.
Cherry August 30, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Good news & bad news. Sorry you had to spend $1500 but I think I would not want to risk not having counsel myself. At least this is over! Best wishes.
Rich Buckley August 30, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Laura, Sharing your experience as you did, opened a few minds to the possibility of criminal collusion within some office of traffic court and/or UP Police Authority.  It may someday bring light onto apparent government wrong-doers.  I would suggest you send a respectful letter to the personal attention of the current CEO James R. Young, 1400 Douglas Steet, Omaha, Nebraska, 68179, explain what happen, ask him to join you in an investigation though our local DA's office. Name names, dates, and department personnel along with the outcome and ask for his assistance in untangling why the California Statutes as to fine levels, appeared to be willfully violated agaist you by UP, that you are certain it would not be UP's continuing policy to allow their police officers to violate state fines set by state codes. It may take 6 months to hear back but I have a hunch you will hear back.
Pleasanton Mom August 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM
@Laura: I'm so sorry for what you've been through. Had I not read your story, I myself would never have known that walking over tracks was illegal. So thank you for sharing your story. I agree with Rich that you should write a letter to the CEO of Union Pacific. Since they can't charge you again with the same crime, I would ask him why his officer didn't show up if it was such an important issue or one they cared about. I'd also demand that they reimburse you for the $1,500 you spent that you would not have had you known their officer couldn't even be bothered to show up. Obviously they aren't likely to just write a check, but you should still make the demand and then you probably have two years to file a small claims case if you want to try to recover the money. I'm not someone that thinks suing people should be the only answer to these things, but in this case you can probably file in small claims court and you might be able to recover your attorney fees. Who knows, maybe you'll get a default judgment if they fail to show up. Best of luck to you. I'm glad this nightmare is over for you.
Becky August 30, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I am going to give $20 toward your legal counsel. Can I leave it at the vet?
Becky August 30, 2012 at 05:09 PM
If you do write to UP, you should send cc's to the local DA, the judge who fined you, the officer, the mayor of Livermore, and anyone else you can think of, and then note at the bottom of the letters that all those people are also hearing from you.
Kathy Montgomery August 30, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Yes, wise to have hired an attorney; you were prepared. $1,500 is a far cry from the $6,000 fine. That is good news. Take care.
BP August 30, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Young is on leave with pancreatic cancer. I was thinking more of a small claim against UP with utube coverage with the invitees being the 6 California railroad cops, city,county, state dot, Operation Lifesaverless, Federal Railbought Association, rail unions, STB, NTSB, the runs running trains too fast with no brakes or steering through there, and the FENCE INSTALLATION companies.
Megan August 31, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Contact "Consumer Watch" on KPIX. It's worth a try to get this out and in the open.
Laura August 31, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Awww! That is the nicest gesture ever! But I would feel uncomfortable having your assistance. Wow! You are a very kind person. Thank you!!

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