railroad encampment
The eviction of the Albany Bulb and the clean-up of the Gilman underpass have prompted homeless to sleep along the West Berkeley train tracks.

Homeless individuals — many relocating from Albany or other parts of West Berkeley — have set up camp along the train tracks south of Gilman Street in recent weeks.

Although a few people have lived near the tracks for years, the population expanded after the residents at the Albany Bulb were evicted in May, neighbors say. Several new encampments have appeared following a city of Berkeley clean-up of the Gilman/1-80 underpass on July 18, which caused the homeless living there to disperse.

A Union Pacific spokesman said the company has talked to the people living along the tracks and is working to clean up the site.

“We have already addressed the issue directly with the folks populating the encampments and are working this week to clean up the illegal dumping and squatting,” said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt via email. “We have been in touch with the city regarding the issue as well.”

Some of the new encampments are protected by fencing, but a few people are sleeping just feet from the tracks. The stretch of railroad has been the site of multiple fatal accidents. Most recently, a Union Pacific freight train struck and killed a 28-year-old man in March. Hunt said Union Pacific is constantly working to prevent trespassing on the tracks, where rapid passenger rail vehicles like Amtrak pose a particular threat.

Rena Slaughter, owner of RAS Metals on Cedar Street by the tracks, said she worries about the people in the encampments.

“Being on the side of the tracks there is not the safest place,” she said. Slaughter called Union Pacific a few weeks ago about the initial influx of homeless people, and the company made the individuals who were there at the time leave, she said.

“It would be nice if they have somewhere to go,” she said. “I have customers who are homeless. Its kind of sad that when they had them moved out they didn’t think of where to tell them to go or what to do with them.”

Following the Albany Bulb eviction, large piles of trash — torn mattresses, empty bottles, miscellaneous broken electronics, plastic bags and wrappers — appeared throughout the railroad area as well. A Berkeleyside reader who asked not to be named took these photos of the encampments and trash between June 16 and July 23.

railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment
railroad encampment

Rodents, trash prompt city of Berkeley clean-up of homeless camp on Gilman (07.18.14)
City of Berkeley gives Gilman Street homeless a reprieve (07.10.14)
Caltrans fence forces homeless to find new camp (04.10.14)
Person hit, killed by freight train on tracks in Berkeley (03.17.14)
Man loses leg in train accident at Gilman St. in Berkeley (10.08.13)

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...