RIVERSIDE: Trail to UCR’s Big C
in conflict with new rail line
Discussions to solve problems over access to Big C Trail near UCR include alternate routes, tunnel or bridge.
From PE.com 8/23/15
~ many a memory myself hiking through here. Hope they can find a solution I would hate for that trail to become extinct ~
Riverside residents and local officials are taking a close look at a critical piece of the upgraded Perris Valley Line, where plans for 240 speeding Metrolink trains a month are causing concern about the safety of neighbors and UCR students who cross the tracks to access popular Big C Trail.
Hiking to the “Big C” atop Box Springs Mountain has become a homecoming ritual and student rite of passage after the 70-foot-wide, 132-foot-tall concrete initial for the state of California was built in 1958.
University neighborhood homeowners, who cherish living so close to Box Springs Mountain Reserve, hike there as well.
At night, a trail of headlamps and flashlights often shines from the mountain’s western flank as students make their way to their school’s mountaintop shrine.
Perris Valley Line test trains are set to begin running in September – just as students return to campus for the new school year and another homecoming in November.
And that’s causing growing unease for the environmental-steward nonprofit Friends of Riverside’s Hills.
“Given the speed and quietness of the Metrolink trains, it’s only a matter of time before we’re looking at an unnecessary fatality,” said group President Gurumantra Khalsa, who is also chairman the University Neighborhood Association. “When students come back, they’re not thinking about this stuff. They’re young, immortal, and it’s never going to happen to them.”
The community group’s fears about the potential danger – included in a lawsuit that delayed track upgrade construction for two years – remain unresolved even after the suit’s settlement, he said.
Leaders of Friends of Riverside’s Hills have met in recent months with officials from the Riverside County Transportation Commission, which has owned the tracks since the early 1990s, as well as city, county and university officials.
To get to the trail, students and residents hike through Islander Park, walk up a rock-covered embankment and cross a single set of railroad tracks that disappear around a curve in the base of the mountain to the south.
For decades, about 55 noisy, heavy freight trains a month have been using the old tracks in that stretch at speeds of about 10 mph.
Lighter Metrolink trains, which will run on weekdays on improved tracks, are quieter, said John Standiford, deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
Curves and an incline in one direction should make Metrolink trains slow from a normal operating speed of about 79 mph to less than 40 mph through that area, he said.
Residents are pushing to get an at-grade crossing and a tunnel or bridge built across the tracks near the end of East Big Springs Road or another nearby spot.
On Aug. 14, Khalsa and Friends of Riverside’s Hills board member Kevin Dawson, a neighborhood resident, visited the spot while construction crews in red trucks worked on other sections. Students traveled across the tracks on their way to or from the roughly mile-long trail.
“A train coming at 25 miles per hour around that curve would be on you before you knew it,” said Dawson, standing on the track.
Officials at RCTC and previous track owner BNSF Railway consider that spot unsuitable for pedestrians and those crossing there to be trespassing. That section has no crossing gates, warning lights or signs.
BIG C TRAIL
What: 1.36-mile trail
Where: Box Springs Mountain
Used by: Residents and UCR students
Problem: Hikers approaching through Islander Park must cross railroad tracks to access the unofficial trail.