Last spring, on a kindergarten field trip to Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, a Berkeley mom’s 5-year-old son ended up next to the busy Union Pacific train tracks during a game of hide and seek.
The boy’s mom learned of the incident from a playmate of her son, and a parent who was chaperoning that day confirmed it, the mother said. The boy had reportedly climbed through a gap in a chain-link fence running alongside the park, just below the railroad grade.
Concerned that children could so easily access train tracks from a play area, the mom, Yasi Haerizadeh, said she sent an email to Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront department, and never heard back.
She reached out to Berkeleyside recently, as her son’s current summer camp visits Aquatic Park, and the chain-link fence next to the railway is still broken. The metal fence is outside a 4-foot tall wooden fence surrounding the park’s playground, which is sturdy and in good shape.
“My kid’s summer camp — as well as many other kids — play there daily. Just as my kid got to the tracks so easily, I worry that this and worse could happen to someone else,” Haerizadeh wrote.
“Trains pass by there multiple times an hour. It needs to be addressed.”
The summer camp provides excellent supervision, she added. But she worries about the risk.
A short walking tour of Aquatic Park fencing last week confirmed that a dilapidated chain-link fence runs east of the park below the railway tracks, with sections obscured by trees and brush. Much of the fence is bent and twisted, including alongside the park playground outside the wood fence. The fence breaks off entirely south of the playground by the grass field, with at least one path up from the grass to the railway.
By contrast, to the north of the playground, alongside the park parking lot, the chain-link fencing is in good shape, with barbed wire on top. This good section ends abruptly at the end of the parking lot, giving way to disrepair.
Matthai Chakko, city of Berkeley spokesman, said a survey would need to done to determine who has jurisdiction over the chain-link fence.
“The railroad right of way is not a clean line. Complete survey work would need to be done along that line to determine accurate jurisdiction,” he said.
Chakko also said city parks aren’t typically fenced. “Most of our parks are next to streets. This one is close to tracks. We don’t fence off the majority of our parks. We encourage parents to watch their kids anytime they’re in any park.”
Kristen South, a spokesperson for Union Pacific Railway, which owns and operates the tracks running through Berkeley past Aquatic Park, said the fence doesn’t belong to the railway.
“Typically, tracks are in place long before development occurs, and the city comes in and installs fencing. You mentioned the fence was chain-link. Union Pacific uses what’s called “expanded metal” fencing,” South said.
Berkeley Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, whose district includes the park, said she was unaware of the fence, but would look into it. She encouraged making a 311 service request to the city, referring to the city’s customer service system for reporting non-emergencies.
On a foggy morning last week, Shirley Procter of Oakland sat in the grass at Aquatic Park with friends, playing with a group of children. She said she hadn’t really noticed the broken-down fence next to the train line.
Fixing it would be a good idea, she said, but she went a step further. “They should also have some kind of wall in front of that fence,” Procter said, explaining that kids are good at climbing. “They definitely need that there.”