Amtrak fatality revisited
It was Jan. 7, just two weeks ago, that I visited the Middle River community where 14-year-old Anna Marie Stickel was killed when struck by an Amtrak train while walking along the tracks on the way to Kenwood High School. During that visit, I had the opportunity to inspect some of the fences that supposedly separate the public froom the tracks, and to find some of the gaps that had been created over the years by people wanting to cut through.
One of those cut-through points was one off an alley not far from Kenwood. A well-worn path signaled that it had been used for years by local residents -- most likely high school kids -- seeking a shortcut.
During that visit, two days after Anna's death, there was a brand-new fix in place -- apparently added in response to the tragedy. But my impression at the time was that it was an amateurish job at best -- held together by a metal strip that could be removed by hand with no more difficulty than popping the top on a soda can. The fence that had been repaired looked worn and shoddy.
Earlier today, I got an opportunity to revisit the site. Sure enough, the metal strip had been removed and left in a ditch. The repaired section of fence had been peeled back to open a gap. The shortcut was back in operation.
There are two ways to look at this turn of events. You can accept the typical railroad industry laments about the supposed impossibility of securing the tracks against a nation of vandals. Or you can ask why Amtrak couldn't make a more effective repair -- one that would have at least required the trespasser to bring a hefty wirecutter.
Protecting railroad tracks from intruders isn't easy. Nobody should underestimate how much of a challenge it is. But when you look at the condition of the fences in the Middle River area -- and their total absence in places -- you have to wonder whether Amtrak is even trying.
Hello, it's 2010. Can't we build a better chain link fence than we did iin the 1970s?