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Official: ‘No easy solution’

Despite rash of accidents, railroad crossing upgrades not a sure thing

A car crosses the train tracks at Fifth Street on Friday afternoon. City officials in Steamboat Springs have begun conversations with Union Pacific Railroad on ways to improve crossings within city limits, including the crossing at the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. There have been nine accidents at that crossing since 1975, including two this year.
John F. Russell

— Three days after the third vehicle-train collision in Steamboat Springs since December, a city official said plans are under way to improve at least one area railroad crossing. But he cautioned that adding safety features to crossings often can involve more than simply installing gates or lights.

Jim Weber, the city’s director of public works, said some of Routt County’s railroad crossings are privately owned or have mixed public and private use, creating jurisdictional complications that can stall the construction of new or additional safety features.

“There is not an easy solution to the problem,” Weber said this week.



But the problem exists.

On Tuesday morning, a Dodge truck driven by 56-year-old Robert Pensack of Steamboat Springs was struck by a northbound train at a crossing at Mount Werner Road and Routt County Road 14. Pensack was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center with internal and hip injuries. He was released Friday, a hospital official said.



While signal lights were flashing at the crossing, Pensack reportedly told police he didn’t see the train “until a fraction of a second before it hit.” Colorado State Patrol Trooper Rick Kaspar speculated that Pensack may not have seen the signal lights because of the glare of the morning sun.

There are no automatic gates – also known as “crossbucks” – at that crossing.

Three collisions in Steamboat, plus another west of city limits in June, add up to four vehicle-train collisions in Routt County in less than a year.

Thirty-seven vehicle-train collisions have occurred at Routt County crossings since 1975.

Nine of those collisions – and two last winter – occurred at a crossing on a private road leading to Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, near the Kum & Go gas station off U.S. Highway 40 across from Anglers Drive.

The park contains 70 homes. Local landowner and longtime resident Bob Enever owns the mobile home park and the road that crosses the tracks.

Enever said he is working with Weber and officials from Union Pacific Railroad to improve the crossing with flashing lights, automatic gates or both.

Enever said he has not yet finalized improvement plans or a total cost for the project, but he said he has notified residents of a $20 rent increase to help fund the project.

“I think we still have the lowest rents in that part of town,” Enever said this week, adding that he did not raise rent at the park last year and he does not charge residents for sewer or water use.

“We’re still involved with discussions with the city and the railroad, so it’s not finalized yet,” Enever said about the crossing upgrade.

“It takes a long time to do things with both railroads and cities.”

Weber acknowledged that because of numerous construction projects around Steamboat – and remaining logistical hurdles with the park’s crossing – the upgrade may not happen before snow falls.

“Will we have it done for this winter? Probably not,” Weber said.


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