Our View: Upgrades needed at railroad crossings
At Issue: Railroad crossings
Our View: Guards should be installed at as many crossings as possible immediately.
It should not take another vehicle-train collision to fix problem railroad crossings in our area.
Unfortunately, it probably will.
Last week, 56-year-old Robert Pensack of Steamboat Springs was struck by a train at a crossing at Mount Werner Road and Routt County Road 14. Luckily, Pensack survived the accident.
A glare from the sun is thought to have prevented Pensack from seeing the train until seconds before it hit him. Lights were flashing at the crossing but there are no crossing guards.
Pensack’s was the fourth train-car accident in Routt County in the past nine months. In June, Glenn Barber sustained serious injuries when his truck was hit by a train near U.S. Highway 40 and Saddle Mountain Ranch. Last January and December, there were separate collisions at the train crossing near the entrance to Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. No one was killed in those accidents.
The Fish Creek Mobile Home Park crossing is a private crossing that has accounted for one-fourth of the 37 train-car collisions in Routt County in the past 30 years.
The good news? Property owner Bob Enever is in talks with the railroad company about upgrading the crossing. The bad news? No one seems to think the upgrade will happen soon.
The Tree Haus crossing is in the county. County Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper said there are no current efforts to upgrade the crossing to include guards. He said the site was upgraded a few years ago to include warning lights and bells.
The Saddle Mountain crossing is like many rural crossings across the country that do not have crossing guards.
Getting a railroad crossing upgraded can be a tedious process. There is limited federal grant money available through the Colorado Department of Transportation and hundreds of crossings competing for those funds each year. Assistant City Manager Wendy DuBord said the city can help private crossing owners such as Enever apply for such funds.
The state’s Public Utility Commission, which oversees railroad crossing safety, must approve all railroad crossing upgrades. The PUC also holds hearings to decide allocation of costs – how much each of the entities involved in a project must pay. Such entities could include the property owner, the municipality, the railroad company and the state or federal government.
Draper said the application process can take two years just to get an answer. Upgrades can cost from $100,000 to millions of dollars.
There is no substitute for crossing guards when it comes to safety. The guards block the crossing and make sure that the glare from the sun or a high snow bank doesn’t keep a driver from seeing a train. In the interest of safety, such guards should be installed at as many crossings as possible.
Four accidents in nine months is an ominous warning that should be heeded. We are fortunate that no one has been killed.
We understand that there is limited funding for upgrades. Still, we encourage the city and county to work together with Union Pacific and property owners to review crossings throughout the county for safety concerns, prioritize the most dangerous and develop a plan for pursuing upgrades. We cannot afford to wait.
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Steamboat Springs resident Tony Distrola learned early the secret to life.