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Walking Across Railroad Tracks Would Be Allowed Under Bipartisan Measure

Companies Currently Issue Tickets To Fishermen, Others Who Cross Rails

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (CC-BY-ND)

Fishermen and conservation groups in western Wisconsin are voicing their support for legislation that would allow pedestrians to walk across railroad tracks. The proposed bill could mean easier access to public land and waters.

Westby Republican Rep. Lee Nerison and several other lawmakers from both parties have introduced a bill to reinstate pedestrians’ right to directly cross railroad tracks.

A law change back in 2006 allowed railroad companies to start ticketing people who cross the tracks in places without a designated crossing.

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Marc Schultz of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance said the current regulations have hurt both local and tourist access to the Mississippi River.

“There’s a lot of local culture and local tradition has been built around the legal right to step across the tracks and this is a significant and distinct loss of access to public lands and waters,” he said.

Many people who fish and hunt along the river aren’t even aware of the current rule, Schultz said.

“If you were able to talk to the average hunter, fisherman, trapper, cross-country skier, birdwatcher, they all just grew up and that’s what they did when they wanted to get into the refuge,” Schultz said. “There’s miles and miles of it where there’s no access other than to go across the railroad tracks.”

Sabrina Chandler, Manager of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, said because Wisconsinites used to be able to walk across the tracks, it’s fairly common for people to continue to do so.

Chandler said the refuge is working to find a balance between both sides of the issue.

“We do have some of the same concerns for safety that the railroad (company) has, but we want to have people be able to access the refuge and we want people to be able to enjoy the public lands,” Chandler said.

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