And a few find refuge around the train tracks that skirt the edge of downtown.
“We used to go up there to drink beer and smoke pot,” said Mickey McDaniel, a 55-year-old Ellicott City native. “We’d be out of sight, out of mind with the police and everything.”
Some local officials and police said they wouldn’t describe the bridge that sits 20 feet above Main Street as a regular hangout. But for some, after nightfall, the bridge and the wooded embankments of the rail bed have been a safe haven from discovery.
So it was for Rose Mayr and her friend Elizabeth Nass, both 19, on Monday, the night an accident took their lives.
Last year, 411 people died and 355 were injured while walking or sitting on the 140,000 miles of track across the country, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The overwhelming majority of railroad deaths each year are people who trespass on private railroad property, the FRA said.
After a train derailment just before midnight killed the two young women as they sat on the bridge, questions arose about whether enough fencing had been installed to dissuade intruders. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) said the county is working with CSX to put up fences around the bridge to help prevent similar tragedies. Freight company officials said they would await recommendations by the investigating National Transportation Safety Board.
“Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. “We neither encourage nor discourage the use of fencing.”
Instead, they present local governments with an array of options and encourage them to find one that fits.
“With that many miles of tracks in America, and every circumstance being different, these are cases where the railroad deals with each on a case-by-case basis,” said Holly Arthur of the Association of American Railroads.
But Courtney Watson, a Howard County Council member who represents part of Ellicott City, said, “No matter how much of a fence they were to install, how long of a fence, if someone wanted to get on the tracks, they’re going to be able to get on the tracks.
“I think it was a case of adventurous young women doing what they did.”
Trespassing on railroad property is illegal, and states set their own penalties. In Maryland, it’s a $25 fine and up to four weeks in jail.
The chain of events that left Mayr and Nass dead was set in motion just before 2 a.m. Sunday. Just back from a weekend camping trip and only days before the two young women would head to college — one to Virginia, the other to Delaware — Mayr received a tweet from her friend Nass.
“Once more before I leave for school . . . you, me, a handle of Burnett’s, and some form of public transportation.”