PennDOT officials and railroad managers want to remind residents that putting up political signs on road signs is illegal and, in the case of railroad bridges and tracks, also highly dangerous.
This week is Rail Safety Week, a campaign by Operation Life Safer to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education and empower the general public to keep themselves safe near highway-rail grade crossings and railroad rights-of-way. No one — political enthusiasts, photographers, or any member of the public — is allowed on railroad property and bridges unless they are employees, according to Loni Martz Briner, the public relations and media manager for North Shore Railroad in Northumberland.
"There's no safe way to be on railroad tracks or bridges," said Briner.
Two political signs for President Donald Trump were spotted on the train bridge going into Lewisburg near the Route 45 river bridge and another was hanging on a road sign on Route 11 coming off the Barry King Bridge away from Northumberland. Other political signs or messages pop up on PennDOT right-of-ways as well as spray-painted onto roadways.
Briner said signs and banners are a safety hazard if they fall off onto the track. It's also not safe to be on railroad tracks or climb across bridges, she said.
"We've been up against this with photographers as well," she said. "We ask them nicely to leave. Any railroad property, even abandoned, is private and considered trespassing."
Most incidents are handled without legal repercussions, but Briner said the police are called in extreme cases. She also mentioned Senate Bill 652, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA), which was introduced to established harsher penalties for criminal trespass on rail terminals, petroleum refineries, electrical power generating facilities, chemical facilities, water/wastewater treatment infrastructure, natural gas transmission/distribution facilities or pipelines, wireless telecommunications infrastructure, trucking terminals, gas processing plants, and dams.
Every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the United States, according to data from Operation Life Saver.
"We don't have set schedules, trains aren't as loud as they used to be so you don't always hear them coming," said Briner. "When you're on a bridge, you have nowhere to go. People on railroad tracks don't realize the impact they have on train conductors and engineers. Trains can't stop on a dime. It can take up to a mile for a train to stop."
Kimberly Smith, the safety press officer for PennDOT District 3-0, said she received the first complaint about a roadsign on Monday. It was a Trump handmade sign zip-tied to a road sign on Route 11 going from Northumberland across the Barry King Bridge toward Blue Hill. It was removed before county maintenance could do so.
"No signs of any kind, including campaign signs, are allowed along state highways within the PennDOT right-of-way." said Smith. "Federal law also prohibits signs to be placed anywhere along interstates and freeways. This also includes on- and off-ramps."
Political signs may not be attached to the guide rail, traffic control devices, PennDOT issued signs, utility poles, bridges, or fences along state highways, she said.
"PennDOT is obligated by law to remove illegal signs," said Smith. "When required, PennDOT will first send a written request to the responsible person(s) to remove the sign. If not removed, PennDOT is authorized by law to enter private property to remove the illegal sign and to collect the costs of removal from the responsible person(s)."
The law also provides a $500 per day fine for the person(s) responsible for the illegal sign, upon summary conviction, said Smith.