April 25 marked the day the Olive Drive fence across the Davis Train Depot was built. According to the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), it was to encourage safety by preventing residents from crossing the tracks.
The tracks are owned by the UPRR and used by Amtrak. There have been approximately 15 fatalities in the last 20 years, most being suicides.
However, Olive Drive residents and the City of Davis City Council are angered by UPRR’s sudden move to construct a fence without prior notification.
Previously, the city requested a 48-hour notice from UPRR about any planned fencing and closing of the historic Slater’s Court and Davis Mobile Estates gates, which give access to downtown Davis and the Amtrak station.
The city also requested that if a fence were built, there would be at-grade crossings available for residents. The city feels that constructing at-grade crossings would be the best alternative for public safety.
“The city believes it was disingenuous of Union Pacific to state that they would provide 48-hour’s notice then show up very early in the morning and construct fences in front of the gates to Slatter’s Court and Davis Mobile Estates with no notice,” said Anne Brunette, city of Davis property management coordinator, in an e-mail.
UPRR sent construction crews to the Olive Drive neighborhood at 8 a.m. and finished the fence by 10 a.m.
Since November, Davis city council and UPRR have discussed the proposed steel fence, which would be 3,600 feet long and approximately eight feet tall. This would block the gates residents have used for decades to enter downtown and the station.
Currently, the fence is of silver metal, about 16 feet long and nine feet tall, and sitting in front of the Slatter’s Court and Davis Mobile Estates gates.
“Pedestrians and bicyclists have been crossing the tracks in the vicinity of the depot for about 140 years,” Brunette said. “We do not understand how something that has been occurring for 140 years becomes a crisis to the railroad overnight.”
With the gates fenced off, Olive Drive residents have to find other ways to get to downtown and the Amtrak station.
One such course is from Olive Drive to Richards Boulevard, a route that takes longer and is considered by residents to be one of the most dangerous routes because of the significant amount of traffic.
“I feel safer crossing the tracks with my children than across Richards,” said Taylor Pope, a resident of Davis and alumnus of UC Davis. Pope said on Saturday that his wife was attacked while along a path she took because the gates were closed.
According to the city, the current fence has created controversy. They are worried it was purposely put in front of the gates to encourage residents to climb over it or get around, so that there is a reason to build a sturdier fence.
“Our concern is that Union Pacific specifically designed the fences to encourage new openings as an excuse to justify why they need to construct the larger new fence urgently overnight,” Brunette said.
Over the past decade, Alan Miller, a Davis resident living near the tracks, was working on getting a bridge built. He has since changed his mind, and said he is not against the fence, he just wants a safer alternative for crossing.
“If we wait for a bridge, the city needs to get the funding, because it’s more than the city budget can handle. Building an at-grade crossing is fairly inexpensive and within the city’s budget,” Miller said.
An application for an at-grade crossing has been given to the California Public Utilities Commission. UPRR refused to give in with the request because of issues with property lines that undermine the railroad’s right-of-way. UPRR declined to comment on the issue.
“You don’t need an impenetrable fence if you give people a way to get through the fence,” Miller said.
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at email@example.com.