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Arbutus woman fears Lansdowne tunnel's closure could lead to tragedy

Office Depot Inc.Tom Quirk

Brenda Shipley doesn't enjoy the view from her office on Sulphur Spring Road, which overlooks four sets of CSX railroad tracks.

Each day, Shipley says she sees "constant traffic" crossing the tracks.

Sometimes it's parents carrying a stroller.

Sometimes it's an elderly person lugging groceries.

It won't be long before a tragedy occurs, the Arbutus resident said.

"We're going to be first responders," Shipley said of her and her co-workers. "It's not going to be if. It's going to be when."

"Somebody's going to get killed on those tracks," the Baltimore Highlands native said.

Pete Panselinos operates the Lansdowne Inn, about a block from where the tunnel's entrance on Hammonds Ferry Road.

Panselinos said he didn't see many people cross the tracks before the tunnel was closed and it's been about the same since the tunnel was sealed.

In addition to trespassing, those crossing the tracks risk their lives, said Robert Sullivan, a spokesman for CSX.

"It can take a moving train a mile or more to come to a stop," Sullivan said. "People just need to use caution and cross at crossings that are approved and not use railroad tracks as shortcuts."

In November, a $12,750 Baltimore County project sealed off the pedestrian tunnel that connected Sulphur Spring and Hammonds Ferry roads after years of complaints about vandalism, crime activity and unsanitary conditions.

Once the tunnel closed, it forced pedestrians who want to get to the other side to take one of two options: cross the tracks or make the trek around them.

To get from one opening to the other without crossing the tracks, a pedestrian's route is 1.7 miles instead of the couple hundred feet separating the tunnel entrances.

Lansdowne Station is a popular destination on the other side. The shopping center in the 3500 and 3600 blocks of Washington Boulevard features a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Office Depot and other stores.

The trip from the Hammonds Ferry Road opening of the tunnel to the shopping center is one mile.

If someone crosses the tracks at Hammonds Ferry Road, it cuts the trip to eight-tenths of a mile.

Del. James Malone, who represents District 12A, which includes Lansdowne, said a thorough review of the area was done to ensure people had alternate routes.

"We tried taking every precaution with CSX, the county and the state before we closed the tunnel, to make sure there were other avenues other than going through the tunnel," Malone said.

"I think it's important for everybody to know that there's a bus that goes from one side to the other," hesaid. "We made sure everybody knew that, and that was in place."

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, which includes Lansdowne, called the conditions of the tunnel when it was open "deplorable."

Quirk said he walked the tunnel several times and found urine, feces and signs of drug use.

"Whether the tunnel is open or whether it's not, I have yet to find anybody who would use it to cross beneath the tracks," Quirk said.

Quirk added that he would like to have an alternative route that is safer than the tunnel.

Shipley said she had used the tunnel while it was open, though she admitted it wasn't the most pleasant experience.

"I wouldn't go through barefoot and I wouldn't sit there and have lunch," she said. "People used the tunnel. Some people still crossed the tracks."

Preventing people from continuing to cross isn't as simple as building a fence, which people can scale, she said.

"Build a wall, not a fence, to keep people from accessing the tracks," Shipley said.

This story has been updated.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Office Depot Inc.Tom Quirk
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