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Neighborhood around Desert Oasis High School working on concerns about nearby rail line

Freshman Alex Trillo is late to geometry class almost every day.

Even though he could walk from his house to school in less than 15 minutes, he considers himself lucky if he steps off the bus at Desert Oasis High School to hear the warning bell ring.

"They have to give us passes all the time," Trillo said. "But I always miss something, and it’s hard to catch up."

The 14-year-old’s Mountain’s Edge home and the school are separated by the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

The bus takes about a half-hour on a good day and up to an hour on a bad day to travel around the tracks on Blue Diamond Road.

As part of a formal investigation to determine what safety measures, if any, should be installed between Desert Oasis High School and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada held a consumer meeting on Oct. 20 and a public hearing on Oct. 21 in Las Vegas.

The school, which opened in August at 6600 W. Erie Ave. to ninth through 11th graders, is located about 300 feet east of the tracks. Parents of students who live in Mountain’s Edge just west of the tracks want their children to have a safe way to cross the tracks to access the school.

"I don’t have a problem with my son walking over or under the railroad tracks," said Sandra Andrews. "It’s a safer alternative than walking 10 miles on Blue Diamond Road."

"The first day of school, it took us two hours to get the kids to school," said Ingrid Trillo. "If there’s an emergency, it would take even longer."

Freight trains, carrying anything from hazardous materials to lumber, pass the school at up to 60 miles per hour. The nearest railroad crossing is located 2 1/2 miles north of the school at Blue Diamond Road and Jones Boulevard.

"I don’t care what they do, but they need to put a place where my kids can walk," said Cindy Boudreau. "My biggest fear is that my kids are going to get killed."

The Clark County School District is busing students from the area, even though it isn’t required because Mountain’s Edge is within the two-mile radius, but there is no transportation following after-school activities.

Although the Public Utilities Commission has determined that a precautionary measure is necessary, neither the school district, Clark County or the Union Pacific Railroad thinks it should be responsible for the cost of installing a fence or railroad crossing.

"The railroad has had nothing to do with the creation of this problem," said David Pickett, Union Pacific Railroad general attorney.

The tracks have been in operation in the area for more than 100 years. They are part of the original Salt Lake City to Los Angeles line.

Union Pacific Railroad has voluntarily made plans to build an 8-foot tall vandal-resistant fence 1-mile long in the area of the school. Construction will begin on the fence when the $250,000 needed can be raised. It then will take 30 to 60 days to build the fence.

"We don’t want a fence. We want access. There’s only one way to Desert Oasis High School," said Ingrid Trillo.

Pickett said there is a struggle between safety and access, but safety is the railroad’s No. 1 priority.

In addition to providing buses for students living west of the tracks, the school district is educating students about safety. Any student seen near the tracks is given a warning, and on second offense, a citation. School has been in session for eight weeks, and no citations have been given.

"The charge of CCSD is to educate students," said Marti Ashcraft, counsel for the school district. "It isn’t in the business of constructing crossings. We don’t have the ability. We don’t have the budget. We don’t have the power."

The land between the school and the tracks are owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

"Obviously, there’s a cost associated, but how many kids have to get hurt before there’s money put aside?" asked parent Stormie Andrews. "What is the value of a child’s life?"

Clark County already has plans to build a bridge with six lanes for automobiles and a pedestrian walkway over the tracks about a quarter-mile away from the school on Cactus Avenue. The design phase for the bridge should be complete in March or April of 2009. A construction date has not been set.

Parents of the Desert Oasis students say they don’t feel that the Cactus Avenue bridge is an immediate enough response to the problem.

"This is something beyond the scope of what we do, but we thought we’d see what we can do," said Commissioner Rebecca Wagner of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada. "At lease we can raise awareness of that area."

The Public Utilities Commission will give recommendations and vote on the issue at its Nov. 5 agenda hearing in Carson City.

Contact Henderson View reporter Lauren Romano at lromano@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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