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Train-Related Deaths Spike in Santa Barbara County

Police investigate the death of a pedestrian killed by a train where Milpas Street intersects with the train tracks. | Credit: Paul Wellman/file photo

The Grand Jury of Santa Barbara County has made six recommendations to enhance railroad safety after it discovered that train-related deaths in the county were notably higher in number and percentage per population than those in San Luis Obispo, Kern, and Ventura counties over the same four-year time period. There were 20 trespasser deaths on the 109-mile stretch of tracks in the county from 2015 to 2018 — 11 of which were deemed suicides, and 12 of those killed were homeless.

“The only real way we are going to save lives is through more housing,” said Das Williams, whose district includes a stretch of track where 11 of the train deaths occurred. The Grand Jury found high numbers of homeless encampments around the two small stretches of track where 85 percent of the deaths occurred. The two areas were from Ortega Hill in Summerland to Milpas Street in the City of Santa Barbara and from Patterson Avenue to Glen Annie Road in Goleta. These areas had nonexistent or damaged fencing, scrub brush, and overgrown trees and were infrequently patrolled by security personnel, all factors that contribute to homeless encampments flourishing in these areas.

The map above shows the location of the South Coast’s 20 train-related deaths between 2015 and 2018. Seventeen of the deaths occurred on just two small stretches of track in Santa Barbara and Goleta.

The Grand Jury recommends the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, the County of Santa Barbara, and Santa Barbara County Association of Governments collaborate with Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks, to develop a sealed corridor spanning the entire stretch of tracks in the two high-risk zones. The six recommendations outline steps to create the corridor — including installing video cameras — that would ultimately remedy the issues attracting homeless encampments to these areas and greatly restrict pedestrian access in an effort to prevent deaths. 

Both cities, the County Board of Supervisors, the County Sheriff’s Office, and the County Association of Governments have 90 days to respond to the Grand Jury’s recommendations either in agreement, disagreement, or partial disagreement with an explanation.

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