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Associated Press , Published September 05 2013

Track where boy lost feet lacks required fence

ST. PAUL – The railroad track where a 9-year-old boy’s feet were severed in St. Paul last month was not guarded by a fence as required by state law.

Authorities say Marshawn Farr-Robinson climbed onto a slow-moving train about a block from his home on tracks belonging to BNSF Railway. He fell and a train amputated both his feet.

A well-worn path leads to the tracks. The path is considered a shortcut between two neighborhoods, despite a clearly posted no-trespassing sign on the railroad’s property, according to a joint report by KARE-TV and Minnesota Public Radio.

While anyone who goes onto railroad property without permission is a considered a trespasser, Minnesota law requires railroads to “build and maintain good and substantial fences on each side of all lines of its railroad.”

The law, which has been on the books for about a century, was written to protect livestock. But courts have said it’s also intended to protect children. The law can be pivotal in liability lawsuits and has come up in more than a half-dozen cases.

Those cases include a lawsuit on behalf of Andre Fisher, now 32, of Brooklyn Center. He was 9 when he lost both his legs to a train in Minneapolis. He crossed the tracks on a path used as a shortcut to a park. There was no fence to stop him.

Fisher’s case against the Soo Line was settled after a judge ruled the railroad violated the fence law. Fisher, now a father of two, said he sees no reason why railroads shouldn’t fence off their tracks in residential areas.

But the law lacks an enforcement mechanism. No government agency monitors the extent to which tracks are fenced. Minnesota has around 4,400 miles of freight railroad lines.

Asked why some of its tracks are not fenced, BNSF issued a statement that said in part: “Constructing and maintaining fence for the over 4,000 miles of railroad tracks throughout the state, unfortunately, in some cases would still not deter people from entering railroad property.”

The Federal Railroad Administration counts 75 deaths or injuries to trespassers on railroad property in Minnesota from 2007 to 2012.

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