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Editorial by Scott MorrellView Icon Profile

Reprinted with permission from the Jefferson State Insulator Club newsletter

Are you considering a little insulator hunt along the railroad tracks anytime soon? Think again. On October 23, 1999, the penalty for trespassing on railroad property in Oregon was increased from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. Formerly, trespassing was punishable by a fine up to $1000 fine and 30 days in jail. Now one risks a $5000 fine and one year in jail.

This is vital knowledge for insulator hunters who might try their luck along Oregon's railroad tracks. This draconian legislation was spearheaded by Rep. Kevin Mannix (R) from Oregon's 32nd district. His website states: "We have toughened sentences for violent crimes, but we need to toughen sentences for 'property' crimes."

"Why?" one might ask, would such a strict punishment be imposed for railroad trespassing? I contacted Mr. Mannix via e-mail, and was told the following:

"Enhancing the penalty from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor gives the law "needed muscle." The Oregon Railroad Association submitted "In recent years, the number of fatalities and injuries to trespassers on railroad property has been climbing to unheard of levels..." ; "it will also make a stronger case for local law enforcement and judges to want to enforce laws governing a growing, serious problem. It will add weight, particularly among youth, to the threat of citation or arrest rather than repeated warnings for railroad trespass." And further, "...people seem not to realize that railroad property is private property, and put themselves at risk illegally trespassing."

I found it hard to imagine anyone risking a walk along the tracks under the old rules ($1000 fine & 30 days in jail). So I asked Mr. Mannix why trespassing was further criminalized. I asked if a Class C misdemeanor wasn't sufficient deterrent. Mr. Mannix replied: "Prosecutors and police are more likely to use their scarce resources for a hearing-penalty crime."

It is unfortunate that we as a society must impose ever harsher punishments in order to make it "worthwhile" to enforce the law. Undoubtedly, the railroad has very legitimate reasons to keep trespassers away... theft, vandalism, liability lawsuits, etc. But Oregon's railroad trespassing law is among the strictest in the nation... and an unfortunate turn of events for insulator collectors and railroad enthusiasts.

In practice, judges will be reasonable in such cases. A collector in the Willamette Valley was recently arrested while hunting insulators along the Union Pacific line. He was fined a little over $100... and the judge knew about the insulator hobby. He "got off easy." More than likely the $5000 fine & jail time is reserved for folks who do real damage and thievery. It is too bad that this collector had to pay a dime for his harmless activity. In a more perfect world, the law could distinguish real criminals from everyone else. If only we lived in such a world.

There are still parts of the country where train crews wave & smile as they pass by insulator collectors along the tracks. It is worthwhile to learn the laws in a particular area before beginning a hunt. It is best to ask permission when possible, or if all else fails, stay out of sight... especially in Oregon!

For further information, contact:

Everett Cutter (Oregon Railroad Association):

Oregon Railroad Association
Sylvan Park Office Campus
6441 SW Canyon Court, Suite 260
Portland, OR 97221-1458

Rep. Kevin Mannix:

The text of the measure follows:

PRCS Form - 1999 Session

STAFF MEASURE SUMMARY CARRIER: Senator Duncan Senate Committee on Judiciary
REVENUE: No revenue impact
FISCAL: Fiscal impact issued
Action: Do Pass as Amended and Be Printed Engrossed
Vote: 4 - 0 - 3
Yeas: Courtney, Duncan, Tarno, Bryant
Nays: 0
Exc.: Brown, Burdick, Nelson
Prepared By: Bill Taylor, Counsel
Meeting Dates: 5/26, 6/11

WHAT THE BILL DOES: Expands Criminal Trespass I to include certain activities involving railroad yards, tracks, bridges and rights of way. Provides that a person commits the crime by entering or remaining unlawfully upon railroad yards, tracks, bridges or rights of way.

ISSUES DISCUSSED: The public needs to know when it is on railroad property. � In many instances, a reasonable person would know that he or she is on railroad property.

EFFECT OF COMMITTEE AMENDMENTS: Requires a person to enter or remain unlawfully upon railroad yards, tracks, bridges or rights of way.

BACKGROUND: Current law provides that a person commits Criminal Trespass I if the person:

(a) Enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling; or

(b) Having been denied future entry to a building pursuant to a merchant's notice of trespass, re-enters the building during hours when the building is open to the public with the intent to commit theft therein. ORS 164.225 This bill provides that a person commits the crime by "walking, riding or traveling across, along or upon railroad yards, tracks, bridges or rights of way at any location other than a public railroad crossing." Under current law, this is usually prosecuted as Criminal Trespass II, a Class C misdemeanor. This bill raises the railroad trespass to a Class A misdemeanor.

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Last updated Saturday, March 25, 2000