Railroad safety: Hikers warned to stay off tracks

MARQUETTE – Officials from Cliffs Natural Resources are asking area residents to stay off railroad tracks as they venture out into the woods this spring.

Officials said they’ve seen an increase in trespassing on Cliffs’ railroad tracks between the Empire and Tilden mines and the LS& I Ore Dock.

“We haven’t had any close calls yet, but we’ve been seeing a lot more people walking closely to the tracks or being on the tracks, so we just kind of want to raise this issue early and really try to convey to people that going on these tracks is trespassing, but is also a very, very dangerous situation to put themselves in,” said Jennifer Huetter, Cliffs district manager for public affairs in Michigan.

The tracks, owned and maintained by Cliffs Natural Resources, are traveled daily by ore cars carrying pellets to the ore dock in Marquette’s Upper Harbor.

According to a written statement from Cliffs, a loaded train with 120 cars takes about a half mile to come to a complete stop. Weather conditions and downhill grades can increase the stopping distance.

Huetter said the biggest area of concern is the Dead River Bridge.

“After this big, hard winter, we’ve been seeing a lot of people getting out in the woods, and that’s understandable,” Huetter said. “One particular spot is the Dead River Bridge. There’s a beautiful view from the Dead River Bridge, the problem is it’s not a place for people to be walking.”

Hiking, walking or driving on the tracks is considered trespassing and is a federal offense, according to the release. Signs are posted at several areas along the tracks reinforcing the trespassing rules and identifying the railroad right of way.

“With the temperatures getting warmer, people are getting out in the woods more and coming in contact with the tracks,” said Steve Beranek, area manager in the Transportation Division for the LS&I Railroad. “It’s important to keep in mind that the trains coming from the mines don’t operate on a specific schedule, so you never know when a train will be coming down the tracks. We ask everyone to maintain a safe distance and obey the posted signs prohibiting trespassing.”

Individuals caught trespassing on the tracks will be reported to local law enforcement.

According to the press release, “Cliffs Natural Resources encourages everyone to enjoy the outdoors but adhere to all safety and trespassing signs.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.