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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Polk Co. looks to improve
 rural grade-crossing safety

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A flashing railroad crossing signal will be installed on a potentially dangerous rural intersection south of Erskine, Minn., according to the Grand Forks, N.D., Herald. The signal at the intersection of Polk County Road 206 and the Soo Line Railroad tracks is one of several railroad crossing safety improvements that will be made in Polk County over the next year.

The Polk County, Minn., Commission approved the agreement for the CR 206 project. The intersection is about four miles south of Erskine on U.S. 59, and one-half mile west on County Road 206. The paved road has a posted speed limit of 55 mph, while freight trains on that track travel at about 50 mph, according to Polk County Highway Engineer Richard Sanders. While he knows of no serious accidents at the intersection in the past decade, he said it is dangerous.

"There's a farmyard and a big grove of trees on north side of the road," he said. "The only way to see a train from the north is to pull up almost to the track and look."

The Soo Line and BNSF have been inspecting roadway intersections throughout Minnesota over the past two years. BNSF inspected crossings along U.S. Highway 2 last year.

"They're looking at all roadway intersections," he said. "They're putting stop or yield signs on some of them to help with safety at intersections."

The federally funded program - Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Improvement Program, is operated through the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations, Rail Administration Section.

"It was a group decision," Sanders said. "They sent out letters. We went out and inspected and came up with a plan of action."

Since the program began in 1974, active warning devices have been installed at more than 1,300 of the approximately 4,500 railroad-highway grade crossings statewide. Most of the projects are funded with federal funds that are matched by state, local or railroad funds.

Grade-crossing crashes have decreased significantly since the program was introduced, according to Mn/DOT, from an average of 400 vehicle-train crashes and 50 deaths annually in 1972 to 52 collisions and six deaths in 2008.

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