Archive for Saturday, February 25, 2012

Parents, county press for safer railroad crossing

A steep hill and trees make trains hard to spot at this railroad crossing along East 950 Road northwest of Lawrence. At the urging of parents whose son died at this spot a year ago, the Douglas County Commission is asking for the state to help make it safer.

A steep hill and trees make trains hard to spot at this railroad crossing along East 950 Road northwest of Lawrence. At the urging of parents whose son died at this spot a year ago, the Douglas County Commission is asking for the state to help make it safer.

February 25, 2012


At the urging of grieving parents, the Douglas County Commission is asking the state for help in upgrading a dangerous railroad crossing.

A year ago, Kyle Snyder, 22, slid down a snow-packed hill on a gravel road northwest of Lawrence and onto a railroad crossing. His truck was crushed by a BNSF train traveling more than 50 mph.

In the wake of their son’s death, Tom and Laury Snyder have been campaigning to make the crossing along East 950 Road safer.

Today flowers and crosses sit nearby as a reminder of Kyle Snyder’s death. Now, Tom Snyder said he wants to see flashing lights at the crossing as well.

“There’s a train crossing at the foot of a huge hill. It’s a dangerous situation, and all I’m asking for is a light,” he said.

The crossing isn’t heavily traveled. Counts from the Kansas Department of Transportation estimate it has less than 40 vehicles a day and trains pass through fives times daily. But among the traffic is a 65-passenger bus for the Perry-Lecompton school district.

School district and county officials acknowledge the crossing’s dangers.

From the north, the railroad tracks and crossing are clearly seen. However, coming from the south, the crossing is at the bottom of a steep hill. Warning signs are a couple hundred yards away on a flat stretch of the downward slope. From that point, the railroad tracks are obscured by trees. It’s not until a driver is nearly at the crossing that there is a long distance view of the tracks.

“It’s hard to see an oncoming train until you are almost to the tracks,” Perry-Lecompton Superintendent Dennis Yoder said.

In the winter, the road is prone to freezing because it is north-facing and covered by vegetation. Ice can make it hard for vehicles to stop before the crossing, county engineering division manager Terese Gorman told county commissioners at a meeting this week.

If a signal were installed, drivers could tell whether a train was coming at the flat part of the hill and wait for it to pass before descending down to the crossing.

“I think a warning would allow you to put on your brakes sooner than you would (now),” Gorman told commissioners.

Already on icy days, the school bus driver will have parents drop off their children at other bus stops to avoid venturing down the hill, Yoder said.

At the request of the Snyders, Yoder sent a letter to KDOT asking for help to make the crossing safer.

The amount of train and vehicle traffic the crossing has won’t qualify it for federal funds, KDOT coordinating engineer Mitch Sothers said. Crossings with more traffic receive higher priority.

The county also has the option of closing one crossing and receiving money to help put up signals at another one or to apply for state money, which is limited and is granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

On Wednesday, the County Commission signed a resolution asking for state money to install a signalized crossing, which could cost between $150,000 to $250,000. Each year the state sets aside enough money to cover about one-and-a-half crossings, Sothers said.

If the state were to approve the county’s request, the county wouldn’t have to pay anything. The state would cover 80 percent and the railroad the other 20 percent.

If the hill really is so steep that cars have difficulty stopping when there are icy conditions, the county might want to consider more drastic measures such as closing the crossing or lessening the grade of the road, Sothers said.

Closing the crossing would add time and distance to the Perry-Lecompton bus routes, Yoder said. And, Douglas County Public Works director Keith Browning said the county hasn’t discussed closing the crossing. Just three roads cross the railroad tracks between Lake View Lake and Lecompton. The closest one from East 950 Road is about a mile west.

“In that part of the county, there are not all that many roads,” Browning said.

Whether it’s lights or closing the crossing, for Snyder any safety upgrade could help prevent another tragedy.

“I lost my one and only child and that has devastated me and my wife,” he said. “I would hate to see anyone else go through what (we) have gone through in the last year.”


Horsewagled 2 years, 1 month ago

How many Amtrak passengers are going through these blind death traps? Some of the private crossings along this stretch Big Foot would have a time getting over. Couple of nice overpasses on these roads Kansas. Do you realize how much we have spent to raise these overpasses so the pooooor BNSF can run double stack rail cars?


Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 1 month ago

One time in Illinois I saw the most amazing thing. It's too bad I didn't have a video camera because this would have been a HOT one on youtube!

There was the ding, ding, ding of the bell, and the flash, flash, flash of the red lights. I could say we had to stop the car because of that, but there was a more forceful reason for us to stop because the car in front of us had already stopped.

There were a couple girls walking across the railroad tracks as the crossing barriers began to descend. And, I could hear a train approaching, although it was not a high speed train. (Lucky for them!)

Talk, talk, talk they went, about something that was obviously much more important than the facts that a train was approaching on the tracks they were walking across, and the crossing bar was descending.

Yak, yak, yak. It must have been quite important, because they were oblivious to their surroundings. Damn, ladies, there's a train coming, and the crossing gates are coming down, shut up long enough to get off the tracks, would you please do that?

No, that was too much to ask. Totally absorbed in their conversation, they were only interrupted by the crossing gate hitting one of them on the head on its way down!

She put her hand to her head, and looked around.



Kontum1972 2 years, 1 month ago

i have seen people cross at the crossing's even when the gates are down....i have had them actually honk at me and give me the finger as they go around me....the signs say do not enter crossing when the arms are down....


Stu Clark 2 years, 1 month ago

My single esperience with that crossing occurred several years ago. Approaching from the south, I heard a very loud (close) diesel horn. I had no idea where the tracks were but as we wern't actually on them, I braked to a quick stop and waited. A few seconds later a single diesel engine flew by about 40 yards ahead. Totally scary! The required horn warning from the engine made the difference.


RoeDapple 2 years, 1 month ago

I sometimes make this crossing several times per month. As tragic as this young man's death is, the type of signage would probably have made no difference. An out of control vehicle sliding down a snow packed hill will not stop faster if there are flashing lights.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 1 month ago

Geez, this issue has become tangled.

These grade crossings all have crossbucks signs at the crossing. They have yellow warning signs previous to arriving at the crossing. The problem is not with the crossing or the railroad. Those tracks have been there for many, many years. Anyone approaching that crossing should be aware of it. Adding flashing lights, gates, etc would not fix the problem because there are still a lot of people who ignore most any warning sign inculding the red lights. Many people today are in such a hurry, drive in a distracted coma, and just plain drive recklessly. I see drivers in town who run red lihts, stop signs, or any other traffic control devices. You simply cannot pile up all these "fixes" because you cannot fix stupid. All commercial vehicles including school busses are required by law to stop before all rail crossings, open windows and listed and look for oncioming trains. The locomotive engineer is required by law to sound his horn well in advance of any crossing, two long blasts, one short and one more long.

The problem with this crossing is simply distracted drivers who fail to observe and react to the warning signs, lights and lowered crossing gates. This is why people get killed at rail crossings and to date, no one has found a way to get reckless drivers to become more aware and careful. Throwing money at the problem will not fix it.


blindrabbit 2 years, 1 month ago

With 45 vehicles a day, close the crossing! Problem up there even with a crossing 1 mile west and 1+ mile east (Brunes Corner) is the access to those crossings from the few 950 Road customers. Don't think lights would be a good solution, due to bad road approaches to the crossing, cost of light installation, maintenance, vandalism!


Getaroom 2 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like a reasonable cost, if accurate. The general concept is a worth while consideration, but I doubt a gate is necessary or even all that useful for that RR crossing. I have seen way too many people go around gates over the years and in far less obscure places than that one. It is a tricky spot, no question about that and anyone using that road with any regularity at all, knows to be cautious, whether they are or not!
A caution/notification warning using a visual light and sound is an excellent solution, if not an accident preventer. We will have to wait and see if this is a priority over a new Capitol Chapel however.
"Pray and meditate" that the crossing wins out.


tanaumaga 2 years, 1 month ago

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mae 2 years, 1 month ago

Reduced speed limit signs with a flashing yellow light on top might be cheap also. Heck, make it a school zone.


mae 2 years, 1 month ago

For two hundred and fifty grand I will put a freak'n disco light inferno out there 50ft in each direction. That's absurd for two sensors, a couple motors lowering blocks and a bunch of lights.


Horsewagled 2 years, 1 month ago

Hey Mitch the boy was killed at this crossing on first base. Why are you putting signals out in left field on crossings that already have signals on snail tracks. Crossings you couldn't grow a collision with a gallon of whiskey. What's it called ---uh collusion tactics I think ---for you try to get a crossing closed down for your railroad buds. Is that legal MITCH.

And on the crossing with lights when gates are being added needlessly your letting the railroad steal OUR signals Mitch. Mitch that's theft of Federal property.

Hey Mitch these tracks have track lights. Track lights turn red when a train is coming Mitch. Wouldn't a track light here be better than your lip service???

Hey Mitch ---Let the people put you on a track mounted skate board and let the train push you 79 mph down the tracks Mitch and you can blow all the smoke you want?


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