by: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Local officials are exploring the possibility of constructing a walkway between Woodburn and Gervais that would increase railroad safety. Local city officials are exploring the possibility of an asphalt walkway running parallel to the railroad tracks between Woodburn and Gervais, a project they hope will reduce pedestrian fatalities along the one-mile stretch.

Walking upon railroad tracks in Oregon is not only hazardous, it’s also illegal. Nevertheless, the railway between the two north Marion County communities is known to attract an unusual amount of pedestrian traffic because it is a much shorter and more direct route than Highway 99E.

“The problem we run into is that human nature is to take the shorter path,” Woodburn Mayor Kathy Figley acknowledged. “You see that anywhere that the sidewalks go one way but the trail people leave goes somewhere else.”

The problem has resulted in tragic consequences in the past: three deaths over the past four years, including as recently as Oct. 15, when Diego Rodriguez, a 13-year-old Gervais School District student was struck and killed by an Amtrak train.

“People sometimes don’t understand that you don’t always hear trains the way you might expect,” Figley said. “The way the sound carries — it can sometimes be on you before you know it.”

A number of mediating efforts have been discussed by representatives of the two communities, and some have already been implemented, such as presentations on railroad safety being hosted by Gervais schools, increased vigilance on the part of local police and the posting of signs warning residents about the dangers of walking on the tracks.

But, Figley said, officials are also exploring potential solutions that may be more costly and involved, but also more effective, such as the construction of a pedestrian walkway/bike path between the two cities.

She said the Woodburn Public Works Department is currently working on the logistics and possible cost of such a project, and she expects to have more concrete information within a couple weeks.

“We’d love to do it. I think it would have a lot of benefits for people going back and forth,” she said. “It’s something that’s a little ambitious, but not so ambitious it’s not doable.”

If the walkway can be constructed to sufficient width and other standards, it could also be used by emergency vehicles and Union Pacific Railroad staff responding to service calls.

Figley said it was too early to speculate about the cost of such an undertaking, but did say officials would pursue outside funding, including state and federal transportation grants, foundation grants and private-sector programs.

“I don’t think either one of our jurisdictions has a lot of general fund dollars to dedicate,” she said.

Specifics regarding the possible project will be presented to the Woodburn City Council once staff completes its preliminary work.

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