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Monday, April 12, 2010

Railroad intersection fix designed to curb impatient drivers

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The city of Spokane Valley, Wash., is using state grant money to protect a handful of drivers from their own impatience, The Spokesman-Review reports. Too many drivers have been weaving around railroad crossing arms after they've been lowered at Park Road just south of Trent Avenue. The result is a dangerous situation for them and for train crews.

Spokane Valley engineers are designing a project to install concrete centerline barriers to keep drivers from going around the crossing arms on the pair of adjacent BNSF lines. The 12-inch-high barriers will extend 100 feet in both directions and will be topped with flexible markers known as "candles."

Drivers will have no choice but to wait for the trains.

The city got $40,000 from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission following an investigation by the WUTC staff. The commission staff said that in the past two years, at least four drivers have been spotted going around the crossing bars in the face of oncoming trains.

Ken Knutson, project manager, said Spokane Valley was asked to apply for the grant.

"Approximately 50 trains travel daily across both railroad crossings at Park Road at speeds up to 79 mph," the commission staff said in a news release.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said crossing safety long has been a problem for the railroad.

"People seem oblivious at times that it's a main line," he said.

It's not just motorists. Melonas said bike riders and pedestrians also are frequent violators. He said train crews forward reports to BNSF officials who then work with the state, law enforcement and railroad enforcement to reduce crossing violations. Locations with the most violations may then qualify for grants to make improvements.

The grant money comes from a grade crossing protection fund that was established by the Legislature in 1969. The WUTC also operates Operation Lifesaver in Washington, which is a nationwide rail safety education program.

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