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VRE officials warn against deadly shortcut

Wednesday - 4/24/2013, 3:49pm  ET

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Officials say crossing the train tracks can lead to deadly accidents. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

BURKE, Va. - Crossing the train tracks to save walking several blocks might seem like a convenient shortcut, but transportation officials in Virginia are warning that the practice can be deadly.

Every day, 25 freight or commuter trains roll past the Burke Centre Station. The Amtrak trains, and some of the freight trains that don't stop at the station, travel at high speeds and come around a huge curve as they approach the station.

But that has not stopped neighborhood kids or Virginia Railway Express passengers from crossing the tracks to get to adjoining neighborhoods or a nearby industrial park.

Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns the tracks, had erected a fence to prevent the crossings, but the fence has been knocked down and officials are concerned a deadly accident is just waiting to happen.

"The visibility for a train engineer who's going 80 miles an hour, he doesn't see you until he's literally on you," says VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

Signs warning against trespassing are posted near the tracks, but Roeber says some passengers actually jump off the end of the station platform and walk along the track bed to get to the paths.

"It happens all over the United States where people don't hear a train or don't see it and get hurt or injured or killed, and that's what we are trying to prevent," he says.

The people who cross the tracks are technically trespassing and can be arrested, but that is rare.

Fairfax County, which owns a parking garage at the station, has plans to build a pedestrian walkway over the tracks. That solution is years away.

"The bridge costs more than $4 million and is not in the budget or in the four or six year transportation plans," Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook, who also sits on the VRE board, says in a statement.

"But we are still interested in the idea if a funding source becomes available."

In the meantime, Cook says it's imperative that safety come first.

"We need to get the word out to people that this crossing is dangerous," he says.

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