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Archive for Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dangerous crossing

Officials must consider ways to make a Douglas County railroad crossing safer before another tragic accident occurs.

March 8, 2012

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Too often, it’s tragedy that leads to action, as in the case of 22-year-old Kyle Snyder, who died last year when his truck slid down an icy hill on a gravel road northwest of Lawrence and into a railroad crossing. A BNSF train traveling more than 50 mph smashed into the truck, killing Snyder.

His parents, Tom and Laury Snyder, are now enlisting the help of the Douglas County Commission and Perry-Lecompton School Superintendent Dennis Yoder to ask the state for help to make the dangerous railroad crossing on East 950 Road safer.

Last month, the Douglas County Commission signed a resolution asking for state money to install a crossing signal, which could cost between $150,000 and $250,000.

The Snyders want flashing lights installed at the crossing, which is at the foot of a large hill. The lights could alert motorists when a train is passing. From the north, the railroad tracks and crossing are clearly visible. However, coming from the south, the crossing is at the bottom of a steep hill. Warning signs are a couple of hundred yards away on a flat stretch just ahead 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 view of the tracks.

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 to the crossing.

Yoder is involved because a 65-passenger Perry-Lecompton school bus regularly passes over the railroad crossing. “It’s hard to see an oncoming train until you are almost to the tracks,” Yoder said.

The Kansas Department of Transportation reports fewer than 40 vehicles a day go through the crossing. Only five trains pass through daily. This low traffic doesn’t qualify the crossing for federal funds, and KDOT says crossings with more traffic get higher priority. State money may not be a viable option either. The state budgets only enough money for 1.5 crossings a year.

The last and most drastic option is closing the crossing or reducing the grade of the road, officials say. Closing the crossing would add time and distance to the Perry-Lecompton bus routes, Yoder said. There are only three roads crossing the railroad tracks between Lake View Lake and Lecompton; the closest one from East 950 Road is a mile west.

It seems unlikely officials will decide to close the crossing. Making it safer will require some tough decisions and probably some public funding. Officials shouldn’t wait for another tragic accident, especially one involving a school bus, to address this situation.

Comments

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 9 months ago

You know, that railroad crossing of that road has been there for at least a centruy or more. The railroads first built many of their lines when trasnportation was by horse drawn wagon and trains were pulled by steam engines that made their presence very well knows from far away. But in our modern age when many people are in such a hurry to drive, listen to their loud music, text or phone someone about some insignificant item.It does not surprise me that many would want our nanny state to protect them from dangers that previously were of no concern. People were alert to dangers and these sort of accidents did not occur. Flashing lights would be of little help, I regularly observe fools who will run around lowered gates and flashing lights. Trying to protect people from their own inattention is a lost cause. The simple truth is that you cannot fix stupid with lowered gates, flashing lights or blaring horns. There are still those who would find a way acros those tracks if a concrete wall were to decend upon the approach of a moving train.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 9 months ago

I almost made a comment on this article earlier asking exactly how many people have been killed at this particular intersection in the last 100 years.

If it really was all that dangerous, it seems to me that a two mile drive to avoid it would be in order, as the article suggests could be done. That is evidenced by the statement: "There are only three roads crossing the railroad tracks between Lake View Lake and Lecompton; the closest one from East 950 Road is a mile west."

Also, it is stated "It’s not until a driver is nearly at the crossing that there is a long view of the tracks." and "Yoder is involved because a 65-passenger Perry-Lecompton school bus regularly passes over the railroad crossing. “It’s hard to see an oncoming train until you are almost to the tracks,” Yoder said."

Many times I have been behind a school bus and noticed this painted on the back of it: "This vehicle stops at all railroad crossings."

Perhaps better training of the school bus drivers is in order. And, what exactly are the train schedules? They are often on a regular schedule, perhaps that could be posted to warn oncoming drivers exactly what they are.

Considering the very high cost of doing a major project at a very lightly used railway crossing, I think that more lives could be saved by making other intersections and places safer, of which there are many that are much more dangerous, and that are traversed by many more than 40 vehicles a day.

Throwing money at a problem will not always solve it, especially considering that there are so many other places that are also incredibly dangerous.

ohjayhawk 2 years, 9 months ago

The problem I see with posting the "regular" train schedule is that sometimes trains get delayed and are not always "regular". If the times were posted, it might give someone a false sense of security that the particular moment they are going to cross is not a regularly scheduled time. When, in fact, due to a delay, it is the exact moment the train is about to cross. If someone starts down the slick hill as Mr. Snyder did, they may not be able to stop in time.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 9 months ago

Many people have driven directly in front of a semi truck on the highway for that exact same reason.

Horsewagled 2 years, 9 months ago

BNSF is really weak in shareholder proposals. For a $100 bucks you can make a proposal for the poooor railroad to put in gates and go to Ft. Worth and call the brass paying themselves millions what they really are. I always wondered if the media did this if the railroad would take their video recorders and tape recorders away while they have their studio grade recording equipment running like they did me.

When I asked for a copy one of the funny named officers said "This is for us". "I is us" I said. Never did I receive a copy.

Horsewagled 2 years, 9 months ago

J-W Editorial staff. Do a FOIA to the state for this Federal statute to see where OUR crossing equipment goes on closed crossings/ upgraded crossings.

http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div5&view=text&node=23:1.0.1.7.27&idno=23#23:1.0.1.7.27.2.1.10 (3) The State and FHWA shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to inspect materials recovered by the railroad prior to disposal by sale or scrap. This requirement will be satisfied by the railroad giving written notice, or oral notice with prompt written confirmation, to the State of the time and place where the materials will be available for inspection. The giving of notice is the responsibility of the railroad, and it may be held accountable for full value of materials disposed of without notice.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps better training of the school bus drivers is in order. sez Ron Horlzwarth. I know directly that school bus drivers are carefully trained in regards to any rail crossing, no matter what the traffic on the rail crossing may be. There are crossings in downtown Lawrence that see a movement once or twice a week of supplies for this newspaper.

The exact training is that in approach to ANY rail crossing, the driver will activate the hazard warning lights on the bus. Then the bus will stop more than 50 feet of the nearest rail of the crossing. The driver is then directed to quiet down any passengers on the bus, open the drivers side windown and then open the service door. He must then listen in both directions for any sign or sound of an approaching train. After having done these things, the driver must then determine that there is adequate space on the opposite side of the crossing for the bus to be more than 50 feet of the rail crossing behind the bus in the event there is a stop sign or traffic light on the opposite side of the crossing.. After making all these precautions, the driver may then proceed to clear the crossing as quickly as possible. Bear in mind that the locomotive engineer is required by federal law to sound his horn in a prescribed pattern (long-long-short-lont blasts) bwell before reaching the crossing. Any other safety requirements that should be made to assure crossing safety??

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 9 months ago

1) Do the school bus drivers always do that? and 2) How many school buses have been hit by trains?

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 9 months ago

This reminds me of an incredibly dangerous highway crossing in Colorado. At the bottom of a rather deep valley there is a blind intersection, with stop signs for only northbound and southbound traffic. It is a blind intersection from every direction. Many accidents there happen on bright sunny days, and ice was not a factor at all in many of them.

This is a slightly edited clip of a posting I made on January 20, 2012:

There is a town in Colorado named Last Chance. The reason it was named that is because it is your last chance to buy gasoline before you get to Denver, which is about 75 miles further down the road. So if you don't have enough gas in your tank to go 75 miles, you better gas up at Last Chance.

There's an interesting thing about Last Chance. It may have changed in the meantime, but it has or had one of the most dangerous highway intersections I have ever heard of.

I don't know if it has been changed, but if not, it should be. This is a description of it as it was the last time I saw it, out of many, many times I have been through there:

If you are driving on US 36, you have the right of way at the intersection at the bottom of the hill at Last Chance. I don't remember any warning signs, but that does not mean there are none, it only means that I don't recall any. But, I always knew to be very careful at the bottom of that hill, because I know the history of that interchange.

US 36 going through Last Chance has no turns that I can recall for at least 30 miles in either direction. Highway 71 is the same way, both of them are both perfectly straight and have no stop signs at all for many, many miles on both sides of Last Chance.

So, if you are on driving north or south on Highway 71, you go perfectly straight with no stop signs at all for 30 or 40 miles, then at the bottom of the hill is a stop sign.

It is amazing how many people will drive over 30 miles in a perfectly straight line at 65 mph, and then fail to stop at the one and only stop sign!

My parents were eating at the combination gas station and restaurant at Last Chance, when someone ran that stop sign in the middle of the day and a very gruesome accident occurred. There were at least two fatalities, and more were seriously injured.

They expressed their shock to the waitress, who told them something like this: "Yes, there's been over 20 people killed at that intersection."

To her, it was no big deal, it happened all the time. But it was always people that were not from there, because everyone that lives near there knows this:

You better be careful going through Last Chance!

Beth Ennis 2 years, 9 months ago

If only 5 trains a day go through there, I wonder if it would help to post the train schedule. I know they aren't always perfectly on schedule, but at least you would know if it was the time of day they should be coming. That might make a difference, I don't know. It sounds like this poor kid couldn't see until it was too late to stop on a slippery, icy road. How very sad. How much can lights cost? Lights alone would probably help as those gates aren't really going to stop a vehicle. If you could see the lights at the top of that hill on a day when it's icy, you could stop up there and not go down until the train went through. I don't know....it just doesn't seem like the lights should be a huge cost.

Horsewagled 2 years, 9 months ago

http://kdotapp.ksdot.org/TWorks/Projects/CurrentProjects?keyword=railroad

Also search BNSF ---Union Pacific ---crossing

$35,000,000 RF-0019-01 Rail JO
Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR, Intermodal Facility

Kansas know that BNSF is owned by Warren Buffetts $50 BILLION or so?

Or $92,000 in Hope Ks. to close a unused crossing that the tracks had already been cut and road paved over? $8,000 to inspect the job. Geez the media needs to expose this thievery!!!

Horsewagled 2 years, 9 months ago

http://kdotapp.ksdot.org/TWorks/Projects/CurrentProjects?keyword=railroad

Also search BNSF ---Union Pacific ---crossing

$35,000,000 RF-0019-01 Rail JO
Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR, Intermodal Facility

Kansas know that BNSF is owned by Warren Buffetts $50 BILLION or so?

Or $92,000 in Hope Ks. to close a unused crossing that the tracks had already been cut and road paved over? $8,000 to inspect the job. Geez the media needs to expose this thievery!!!

Horsewagled 2 years, 9 months ago

The state and railroad sleep together. If they put signals in before the court dealings are over it would make both look bad. The railroad will even use Mitch as a witness on how fine this crossing was.

These crossing signals aren't really that reliable if the truth was really known. Many deaths are covered up. I don't know who owns the property on the approach but even with signals the sight triangles need opened for 79 mph track speed and whatever the road speed limit is. The state/Feds/ railroad need jailed on 1,000's of homicides for not making sight lines mandatory.

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