Following years of complaints from San Jose residents and threats of litigation, Union Pacific has finally signed a deal with city leaders that guarantees routine clearing of trash and encampments along its railroad tracks.

The 10-year contract, which was finalized earlier this month after more than a year of negotiations, requires that Union Pacific and San Jose employees work together to conduct coordinated clean up efforts at least eight times a year — for four consecutive days each cleanup — along Union Pacific’s 30 miles of railroad tracks in San Jose, which have become a sore spot for homeless encampments, illegal dumping and graffiti.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called the agreement “long overdue” and vowed to ensure that Union Pacific keeps its word.

“Without these commitments, we simply can’t get sites cleaned, so this is an important step for us,” Liccardo said. “And as long and as difficult as this effort was, it will provide a model for other agreements moving forward.”

Since San Jose does not maintain jurisdiction over the railroad operator’s right-of-way, city officials historically have had little control over the state of the tracks. But as the city’s homeless population has ballooned and complaints from residents grew louder in recent years, city officials have put considerably more pressure on Union Pacific to maintain its property. Officials say they want to rid nearby residents of the eyesore caused by the blight and illegal dumping and to protect homeless residents from the dangers that living close to the railroad tracks poses on their lives.

In addition to requiring routine cleanups, the newly agreed upon contract grants San Jose the authority to enter Union Pacific property for the cleanups, outreach to homeless individuals prior to cleanups and periodic patrolling of the properties by police officers to prevent trespassing, graffiti and other illegal activities.

Union Pacific will be required to pay for and install “No trespassing” and “no dumping” signs at locations in the problem area along its tracks. The signs must be printed in both English and Spanish and will include contact information for residents to report illegal dumping and other concerns, according to the agreement. For its part, the city will explore adding fencing or other landscaping on certain city properties that run adjacent to the tracks in an effort to reduce criminal activity and deter trespassing onto Union Pacific property.

The parties will review the contract at least once every three years to determine whether it should be revised, updated or terminated, which either party could do after providing 90 days’ written notice.

To ensure that both agencies stay on track, the agreement mandates monthly calls to discuss cleanup plans and the production of an annual report, which Union Pacific and the city must create each fall to outline the status of homeless encampments along the tracks and the amount of material collected during the cleanup programs.

In a statement this week, Union Pacific said, “We are proud of the progress we’ve made and look forward to continuing our work with the City of San Jose as we work to advance this important partnership.”

Christopher Wemp, 31, who lives near the tracks in Japantown, has served as an integral community leader the past year, pushing the city and Union Pacific to work together to remedy the railroad’s adverse effects on the way of life of the residents who live near the tracks.

Wemp called the new contract a “welcome development” that will hopefully “hold Union Pacific accountable to ensure that they are stepping up and doing their part to better the community.”

“I can’t imagine that it’s easy to get legal agreements of this nature worked out, so it’s encouraging to see our voices are being heard,” he said. “Now my hope is that they continue to be heard because we still have things to work out in terms of our relationship with Union Pacific.”

Illegal dumping and trash along the Union Pacific tracks are not the only issues residents and city officials have sought to remedy in the last year. Also problematic are late-night freight trains blasting their horns and rattling downtown San Jose residents awake in the middle of the night.

The city is working with Union Pacific to establish an overnight “quiet zone” along the Union Pacific Warm Springs Railroad corridor, requiring train operators to silence their horns at crossings from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. The quiet zone would run 1.8 miles long — from the crossing at Montgomery Street near the Diridon Station past the Hensley and Japantown neighborhoods and end at Horning Street near the northern city limit.

Although the city anticipated this summer that the quiet zone could begin as early as November, the city’s department of transportation now says the quiet zone will launch in early 2021. An exact date has not yet been set.

One of the caveats with a quiet zone, however, is that train operators may still need to sound their horns when people trespass and go near the tracks to either seek refuge or dump trash. Wemp sees the new contract as a positive boost to the community’s effort to get a quiet zone established.

“My hope that this can be a start of goodwill, and having that barrier removed and seeing that there’s going to be more accountability for Union Pacific to clean up will hopefully pave the way for a safe and consistent implementation of the quiet zone,” he said.

Read the full contract below:

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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