City debates unprotected rail crossings

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2011

By Emily Ford
City Council members want to take a closer look at three unprotected railroad crossings and talk to people who live nearby before deciding whether to spend $66,900 on automatic warning devices.
“They don’t have any protection at all,” Council member William “Pete” Kennedy said. “They cross at their own risk.”
Pearl Street, Tower Drive and Davis Street provide the only access to a neighborhood off Morlan Park Road. The streets are close together and all cross the same railroad track.
The state notified the city last month the crossings qualify for installation of automatic lights, bells and gates. The city had requested the warning devices in 2005.
The city’s share of the project would total $66,900 for construction, plus about $3,800 per year for annual maintenance. The railroad and DOT would purchase and install the devices and expect the city’s share in about 12 to 18 months, City Engineer Dan Mikkelson told City Council Tuesday.
In a tight budget year, Mikkelson said he recommended not installing the warning devices until the economy improves.
When he met with residents in 2005, Mikkelson said they were satisfied with the existing crossings. The crossings are marked with railroad crossbucks and required signs, he said.
“We’re OK as far as that goes,” he said.
About six trains travel an average of 10 mph through the crossings each day, with a maximum speed of 25 mph, Mikkelson said. At 10 mph, a train can come to a complete stop within sight distance of the crossing, he said.
By comparison, more than 40 freight trains and about six passenger trains travel the main tracks through the city each day at speeds that reach 45 mph and faster, he said.
But council members were hesitant to pass on warning devices.
Kennedy said for years, the city has been closing at-grade crossings, not leaving them unprotected.
Council member Paul Woodson agreed and said he would like to look at the crossings in question before he votes.
Many crossings have been closed in anticipation of high-speed rail, which would not come through the Morlan Park Road area, Mayor Susan Kluttz said.
“I still have concerns,” Kennedy said. “The neighbors haven’t been asked, really.”
The neighborhood is mostly rental property, so people who lived there in 2005 likely don’t live there now, Kennedy said.
City Manager David Treme said while he didn’t disagree with Mikkelson’s recommendation, the city could hold another public meeting in the neighborhood or a public hearing at City Hall.
Council members tabled the issue until they receive opinions from current residents and a chance to inspect the crossings.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.