Friday, July 17, 2009

Crossing work to slow Sprinter trains this weekend

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Installation of a new pedestrian crossing at San Marcos Street will require a short detour on buses for some Sprinter train riders this weekend, the North County Times reports. The commuter trains will continue to operate west of the Palomar College Station and east of the San Marcos, Calif., Civic Center Station on Saturday and Sunday.

The North County Transit District, which owns and operates local public transportation, will operate special buses on a 1.6-mile route between the two stations to bridge the gap in service.

The reason for the changes is the installation of a pedestrian railroad crossing across the tracks at San Marcos Street in an area where people have been climbing the fence to cross the tracks illegally since the Sprinter began running in March, 2008. Many of the pedestrians seen jumping the fences are believed to be coming or going from San Marcos Middle school, which is south of the railway.

The crossing will give residents of the city's Richmar neighborhood a sanctioned path to cross, protected by warning bells and by automatic metal gates that close when a train is coming. Sam Marcos councilman and transit district director Chris Orlando said that it took extra effort by city employees to get approval for the crossing, which is expected to cost nearly $800,000 to install.

"The city had to do a number of surveys to demonstrate that the safest way to handle the problem we have out there was installing the crossing," Orlando said. It took additional work, he said, to find the cash to pay for the crossing. The bulk of the cost will be paid with a $596,230 Safe Routes to School grant from the state Transportation Department.

Securing permission to add ground-level pedestrian crossings to active rail lines has been difficult in North County. Encinitas has been working for years to add four undercrossings in sections of coastal rail where pedestrians often illegally cross tracks. Because trains move at up to 80 mph in the area, federal regulators have resisted simple ground-level crossings like the one to be installed in San Marcos. Instead, vertically-separated crossings are under consideration. Those crossings, basically tunnels under the rails, were estimated at $5 million in 2008, more than five times more costly than the San Marcos solution.

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