BRADENTON -- Charlene Freddes has seen lots of people walking and waving hello to each other at Bradenton's new Riverwalk. She applauds the city's $6.2 million project, but also fears the possibility of injuries or fatal accidents caused by trains traversing the park.
"Something is going to happen out there," said Freddes, a Bradenton resident for at least 30 years. "I saw two children almost get run over by a train."
The children, between the ages of 3 and 5, were at the nearby playground and "when they saw the train coming they started running toward the train," Freddes said. "The mom was right behind them. ... She was calling to them and they wouldn't stop, they just kept running."
Eventually, the mother caught up to them just before the tracks, Freddes said.
"I think the best solution would be if they put two rails there," Freddes said. "Even a light letting you know there's a train near, because it's right next to the playground where the children are."
David Gustafson, executive director of Bradenton's Down
town Development Authority, said the presence of the tracks and passing of trains was one of the things the city examined when considering probable liabilities.
"The tracks have been there forever, it's been looked at," Gustafson said. "Safety is very important to us."
Trains carrying Tropicana products pass by the Riverwalk, right between the Mosaic Amphitheater and the Family Fun Zone, which includes the playgrounds.
The Riverwalk stretches 1.5 miles along the Manatee River.
The trains blow their horns as they pass by -- approximately four times a day -- and travel at less than 10 miles per hour, he said.
"They are very cautious," Gustafson added.
Bradenton has limited say when it comes to adding lights or gates to prevent access to the tracks, he said. CSX operates the railroad.
"We'll certainly look into it to see what the situation is and how we can partner with the community to make sure safety is observed," said Gary Sease, CSX spokesman. "We are interested in doing what we can to promote safety for pedestrians and vehicles."
The first step is to evaluate the area, he said.
"It's a very good thing that people are concerned about safety. We wish everyone was as concerned about safety around train tracks and crossings because people are killed and injured needlessly by trespassing or not being careful at railroad crossings," said Sease.
Shaelyn Summer visited the Riverwalk's playground Thursday with her two sons, ages 2 and 4.
"I was concerned at first," she said, glancing at the nearby tracks. "But then I was here when a train did come by and it was alright. ... Kids should be here with supervision, a responsible adult who knows where the kids are."
Perhaps adding a gate or red flashing light will increase safety, Summer said.
"Kids at this age know that red means stop," she said.
The trains' slow speed and horns give parents several minutes to stand guard, Summer said.
"It is a concern, but it's not going to stop me from coming," she said. "It's a beautiful park. The kids love it, this is their park of choice."