On a wintry afternoon, more than 1 1/2 years ago at a rural Douglas County railroad crossing, a train collided with a pickup truck, killing the driver of the truck.
Now the state, county and BNSF Railway Co. are close to reaching an agreement that will put signals and gates at the track crossing at East 950 Road northwest of Lawrence.
“I would hate for anyone else to go through what the last couple of years have been,” said Tom Snyder, the father of Kyle Snyder, a rural Lecompton man who was 22 at the time of his death.
On Feb. 4, 2011, Kyle Snyder’s northbound pickup collided with the eastbound BNSF train at the crossing, which has a sign but no flashing lights or gates.
Authorities said that icy and snowpacked conditions contributed to the crash, and the train’s engineer and conductor said the pickup was unable to stop at the crossing and slid in front of the train.
After their son’s death, Tom and Laury Snyder urged officials to make the crossing safer.
But the traffic count, which was estimated at fewer than 40 vehicles and five trains daily, did not trigger the ability to tap federal funds to pay for the lights and crossing gates, according to Mitch Sothers, coordinating engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
So, the county applied for funding under a program where the Kansas Department of Transportation provides 80 percent of the funding for the improved crossing and BNSF provides 20 percent. The total cost should run about $250,000, Sothers said.
KDOT and BNSF have agreed to that, and now all the paperwork is getting approved. Once the agreement is executed, BNSF will have one year to install the flashing lights and gates, Sothers said.
“It will improve the safety,” Sothers said. “It will give people on their approaches, advanced warning of a train,” he said.
Joe Faust, a spokesman for BNSF, said he was not familiar with the particular crossing but said state and local officials make the call on the level of protection needed at a railroad crossing. BNSF would be responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment going forward, he said.
Snyder said the key improvement will be the flashing signal because it will give drivers a warning before they start descending the hill.
Snyder also wants the road closed to traffic during inclement winter conditions because of the dangers of the hill and railroad crossing.
“A school bus cannot be traveling down that hill,” he said.
Terese Gorman, Douglas County engineering division manager, said officials are discussing the best way to close the road during winter weather conditions.
“There is agreement from all parties, that is the prudent thing to do this winter,” Gorman said.