hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 18, 2012

Education not enough on railroad safety

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — It has been eight months since well-known local boxer Jeff Fraza was killed on the railroad tracks not far from his Haverhill home.

At the time, there was plenty of talk by city leaders about developing ways to keep people away from the tracks, putting up warning signs and even fences — especially in urban areas where homes and businesses are close to the railway.

The talk has brought little action.

Several years ago, when teenagers were wandering onto the railroad bridge that crosses the Merrimack River downtown, the city acted quickly. When one teen was killed, signs warning people to stay off the bridge were erected and police began watching the span closely.

That kind of swift action was appropriate. But when it comes to Fraza’s death, there has been little action.

“I think it would be a very good idea to reach out to them (MBTA) through the Public Safety Committee, explain our concerns, show them what’s happened over the past five or six years and ask if there are any ways to restrict access to areas of the tracks where people are known to walk,” City Councilor Michael McGonagle said after Fraza was killed. (See story on page 1.)

“The city lost three young people over the last five years,” McGonagle said at the time. “Maybe there is some sort of safety procedure or warning signs or better lighting or fences, or anything that may alert a person on the tracks that they are in an area they shouldn’t be.”

So what has happened since? Several councilors told the Gazette they are unaware of any further activity following the initial discussion after Fraza was killed.

MBTA officials said they told the city that the best course of action is to educate young people to stay away from railroad tracks, perhaps through a school program.

It is, as railroad officials have said, virtually impossible to police all parts of the tracks, especially rural areas such as those along Little River as it winds toward the New Hampshire line. But when it comes to section of tracks closer to the center of the community, the MBTA and city leaders must identify spots most easily accessible to children and others and take action to keep people clear of those areas.

When Fraza was killed, he was reportedly taking a shortcut from downtown to his home in the Acre neighborhood. That and other packed neighborhoods should be the targets of a safety review followed by action to keep people clear of the tracks.

The last thing the city needs is another senseless death on the tracks, another young life ended by someone taking a shortcut that could have been avoided.