Monday, December 07, 2009

Railroad crossings in Lincoln, Neb., closer to closing

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The city of Lincoln, Neb., is moving closer to closing J Street railroad crossings in the South Salt Creek Neighborhood at Second and Third streets, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. Closing the crossings would please Burlington Northern Santa Fe, with which the city is negotiating to buy a railyard near the Haymarket for a new arena, if voters approve building one in the spring.

But that's not why the city is closing the crossings. It's part of a plan to create a second quiet zone in Lincoln -- a corridor where trains can stop blowing their horns after crossings are closed or better secured.

The City Council will hold a public hearing Dec. 7 on the financing for the closures. The council previously has approved an interlocal agreement with a railroad safety board that calls for the closings, as well as improved safety measures at two other crossings.

The federal government requires trains to blow horns at unprotected at-grade rail crossings, but the horns can be silenced if crossings are closed or safety is beefed up with raised medians, lights and gates. The rest of the plan involves building medians to prevent daredevils from going around gates at the crossings at First and J and Third and D streets.

The South Salt Creek Community Organization supports the plan, but one vocal resident of the neighborhood, Danny Walker, has opposed it. He's concerned fire trucks would have trouble reaching the neighborhood if the crossings close.

When a public crossing is closed, the state and railroad each contribute $5,000 toward the costs. The state will pay as much as $12,000 for construction costs associated with each closure. And while the point of closing the crossings and installing safety features is to help create a quiet zone, railroads generally prefer closures to reduce the chance of collisions with cars and people.

"It interests the railroad to close a crossing any time they can," City Engineer Roger Figard said.

Figard could not say when the crossings will close, but construction of medians at the Third and D likely will begin next summer. The neighborhood will hear about it before the crossings close, he said.

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