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Agents warn rail hoppers

Students and locals stumble up and down Wooster Street about 30 minutes before last call as a train horn cuts through the cool, damp air.

As they reach the railroad crossing, dozens of partiers and bar crawlers gather at either side as the gates slowly descend. A few make a quick dash to beat the red and white striped barrier, but most come to a halt.

A group of four CSX railroad security officers wait on the side of the crossing in the dark Dairy Queen parking lot. They are in town as part of a two-day enforcement blitz, warning and citing individuals for failing to cross the tracks at designated crossings and crossing after the gates have come down.

CSX, based out of Jacksonville, Fla., operates over 21,000 miles of track across the eastern United States, including the rails that run through Bowling Green.

A locomotive barrels toward the city’s crossing and a beefy, 6-foot-3-inch Falcon linebacker dashes across, hiking his knees up to waist level.

His darker, smaller 19-year-old brother follows, ignoring shouted warnings from security officers charging at them from the parking lot.

Then a CSX agent yanked the linebacker’s gray shirt. Another agent pulled his brother from the crossing area. Both were handcuffed. Red, white and blue lights flashed as the crowd looked on.

University senior and third-string football player Andrew Stanford, 22, would later be charged with criminal trespassing. His younger brother Dave was cited for ignoring an active crossing signal.

Following two train-related deaths last month, authorities are cracking down on people trying to cross the tracks.

On Friday and Saturday night, between 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., four CSX special agents, along with Bowling Green police officers, patrolled the rails from Poe Road to Napoleon Road.

By the end of the patrol on Sunday morning, the CSX agents had formally warned 88 people for trespassing on tracks and wrote three citations, two of which went to the Stanford brothers. Agents issued countless verbal warnings to others who almost crossed the tracks or who crossed the tracks in massive groups.

Bowling Green police also issued four citations, one Friday night and three on Saturday.

The enforcement blitz was meant to educate people about the danger of being on the tracks, said Ken Gilsdorf, supervisor of public affairs and safety for CSX.

Crossing the tracks anywhere but at a designated crossing is considered criminal trespassing in the state of Ohio, a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by citation or jail time, said Lt. Tony Hetrick of the Bowling Green Police Division.

But Gilsdorf said many people don’t realize they are breaking the law when they cut across the tracks.

This proved the case for the many surprised trespassers who received warnings over the weekend.

‘I had no idea it was against the law,’ said C.J. Sloan, a Bowling Green resident who was warned by CSX agents on Saturday night near Merry Street.

It was fair for the officers to warn people, but citing people first wouldn’t be, Sloan said.

Had anyone illegally crossed the tracks again after receiving a warning they would have been cited, said Don Egan, one of the CSX special agents.

But some were upset with the enforcement and thought it was unnecessary.

‘It’s unfair to people who are responsible and who know how to cross the tracks [at places other than the crossing],’ said Paige Beathard, junior.

With the distance between some crossings, especially ones near the University, it becomes necessary to illegally cross the tracks, Beathard said.

CSX special agents will likely return to Bowling Green within a few months, Egan said. If they were to return, they will likely write more citations.

This weekend’s patrols were meant primarily to educate, but it won’t be that way next time, he said.

‘With the number of people we’ve seen crossing these two nights, we’ll definitely be coming back,’ Egan said.

The University will also contact students who are cited.

On Thursday, the University e-mailed students about the enforcement blitz. According to the e-mail, students who receive a warning or citation will be required to meet with a member of the student discipline committee.

This decision is meant to educate students, not to punish them, said Michael Ginsburg, the interim associate dean of students.

‘Having two deaths within 10 days last month is a serious situation, and students need to be aware of that,’ Ginsburg said.

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