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.