Some Fairfax County residents are aware of the Bunny Man urban legend in one form or another. Whether it be an axe wielding bunny man or an escaped convict or a depraved rabbit stew connoisseur, versions of the legend abound. Some versions are tied to Colchester Overpass, a Norfolk Southern Corporation (NSC) railroad overpass spanning Colchester Road in Fairfax Station. Colchester Overpass is sometimes referred to as Bunny Man Bridge. In nearby Clifton, t-shirts advertising Bunny Man Bridge as a local attraction are sold in the General Store. Though some are aware of this local curiosity, very few are aware of a very real danger there. Unconvinced? Just ask the individuals involved in the railroad trespass arrests that have occurred at Colchester Overpass since October 2011.
The recent string of arrests has little to do with legend and plenty to do with a matter of public safety. At the heart of this matter is an active railway. The railroad tracks at Colchester Overpass are the same tracks that run through Clifton. They are NSC tracks used by Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Amtrak, and NSC trains. Weekly VRE and Amtrak traffic accounts for at least ninety trains. Add the NSC freight traffic and the weekly total is easily in excess of one hundred trains. As anyone that has waited at the Clifton Road rail grade crossing can attest, these trains speed by at fifty to seventy five miles per hour. They are moving at the same speed when they cross Colchester Overpass. Unlike the grade crossing at Clifton this is an overpass so there are no warning signals and the trains offer no approaching whistle. Shouldn’t be a problem since vehicular traffic travels underneath the overpass, correct? Think again.
Though vehicular traffic is safe, Colchester Overpass surprisingly receives an inordinate amount of pedestrian traffic on the active railway. How can this be? During April 2011, local residents discovered a disturbing fact on the Internet. While researching the Bunny Man legend, long embedded on the cyber sphere, multiple YouTube videos and various blogs promoting railroad trespass at Colchester Overpass (Bunny Man Bridge) were discovered. Normally, active railways are not advertised as destination locations. In this case, the location is "advertised" as a great place to experience a thrill on the track!
Curiosity seekers are drawn to the overpass through the Internet exposure. Perhaps unaware of the railway traffic they proceed onto the tracks, twenty five feet above Colchester Road, endangering themselves in the process. Unknown, unattended and often occurring at night, this scenario had been in place for several years. The potentially lethal mix of pedestrians and trains was recognized as a very real public safety danger.
Discovery of this information led to several meetings. As a result, local residents teamed with law enforcement in implementing the following actions. First and foremost, enforcement at the overpass has been enhanced. The Sully District Police Station (FCPD) has always done an outstanding job in supporting the neighborhood at the overpass and continues to do so. Starting in October 2011, the NSC police department became engaged. Since then FCPD and NSC police have actively enforced no trespass at the overpass. Second, NSC installed additional No Trespass signage. This may not seem significant but it has increased the consequences of trespass enormously. What was once a Class IV misdemeanor for railroad trespass ($250 fine) is now a Class I misdemeanor for Trespass on Posted Property. In Fairfax County, this is punishable by up to twelve months in jail and a fine of $2500. Finally, in a public service announcement effort on the Internet, a new website has been created and can be found at www.colchesteroverpass.org. The informational website provides awareness of the safety danger and potential consequences at the overpass.
The actions taken to address the insidious Internet "advertisement" for Bunny Man Bridge have changed the circumstances at this local curiosity. This affects not only local residents but others as well. Since October 2011, the string of arrests related to railroad trespass at Colchester Overpass has included both juveniles and adults. Many were high school students from distant Fairfax County schools. Some were not old enough to drive but caught a ride. In April 2012 alone, five arrests were made. Ironically, by being arrested, these individuals are being protected from themselves. Curiosity seekers of all ages from the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area and beyond are getting an unexpected surprise when they trespass on the railroad tracks at Colchester Overpass.
Increased public awareness of the safety danger and potential consequences at the overpass could prevent additional arrests or most importantly, save a life.
Randy M. Abeyta