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Railroad crossing unsafe, report concludes

Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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SILT – The railroad crossing between Silt and New Castle is dangerous.And a remedy to make the crossing safer could be years in the works, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.The crossing was deemed unsafe in one of the conclusions submitted by Burning Mountains Fire Protection District Fire Chief Brit McLin in a report to the fire district board Tuesday night.The report to the board followed an accident involving a Burning Mountains firetruck and a Burlington-Northern freight train on March 25 at the crossing at the frontage road and U.S Highway 6, just east of Coal Ridge High School. A 20-year-old volunteer firefighter, Austin Coryell, was giving a ride to Angela and Ryan Grant and their 3-year-old son, Jordon, all of Silt, in a community service effort to show the child the truck’s lights and sirens.Even with their windows open, the adult occupants of the firetruck all said they did not hear or see the train until moments before they were struck. The accident totaled the firetruck and did damage to the train, but nobody was seriously injured. All were wearing seat belts.Coryell was cited for careless driving.Independent study

An independent study was solicited and conducted in early April by Deputy Fire Chief Orrin Moon of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department to look at possible causes of the accident.In Moon’s report, he states that the sunny day could have made it difficult to see the flashing red lights warning of the oncoming eastbound train and that the railroad visibility from the west was poor. Interstate 70 traffic noise would also make it difficult to hear warning bells or horns.”A vehicle that is rolling down from the high point of the bridge to the railroad crossing cannot see a train until the train is about 1,100 feet away or 14 seconds from the intersection, if the train was traveling 55 mph,” Moon wrote in his report. “The only place you can see to the west more than 1,100 feet is when you are within 17 feet of the center line of the train tracks.”According to Moon, the 17-foot marker would put a vehicle within a couple feet of the train cars as they were passing.Moon’s report suggested that the district implement a driver operator policy; require an Operation Life Saver (railroad crossing class) for all it’s drivers; document driver records; and establish policies for driver training by a driving instructor, certification and a policy regarding civilian passengers and children riding in fire apparatus.Unsafe crossingMcLin said he “absolutely” believes the railroad crossing off the frontage road and east of Coal Ridge High School is unsafe.”There have been three accidents there in which drivers reported not seeing the train that hit them,” he wrote in his report to the board. “There have been several other near misses.”

McLin also believes there will be another accident if the crossing is not improved.”I really believe there will be another accident at this crossing,” he said. “It’s not an ‘if’ there’s an another accident – it’s a ‘when’. From the point of first visual contact, a (large vehicle) does not have time to get across.”A study allegedly conducted by the Colorado State Patrol three to five years ago also calls the crossing unsafe and recommends that it not be used by school buses, according to McLin. The report was not available at the board meeting.Re-2 school district buses do not use the crossing because it was deemed unsafe in the CSP report, according to Sanja Morgan, transportation director for the district. Possible solutionA “drop-arm” device on each side of the crossing is one possible solution for making the crossing safer, although it would cost about $250,000 to install, McLin said.The drop-arm is a bar that would be lowered and prohibit a vehicle from crossing the track when the train arrived at a certain distance from the crossing.”Otherwise, I can easily see a situation where the lights and bells are working and a person looks and doesn’t see the train and goes,” McLin said.



However, in order to get a device installed, a lengthy process must be followed, according to CDOT.An application must be submitted to CDOT, which prioritizes the projects and uses available federal money from the Federal Railroad Administration to fund the improvements. The application process runs in three-year cycles with the next available application date of March 2007. A study to determine the need would also be conducted.”The project would then be budgeted based on the need and availability of funds,” said Nancy Shanks, a CDOT spokesperson for the Western Slope region.The railroad would ultimately be responsible for constructing the improvements.Discipline and damagesCoryell, the driver of the firetruck, is still a volunteer member of the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District and is actively participating in ongoing training. No disciplinary action is being taken against him.McLin himself, who was criticized by some for allowing Coryell to take the truck, is completely supported by the board of directors.”We’re very proud of the fire department we have,” said board member Adria Milton. “We have some fine volunteers and we’re aware of how dedicated they are. We didn’t feel after reading the reports that there is anything the board needed to take action on.”The district is, however, responsible for an estimated $17,000 in damages to the train’s engines and a switchbox at the crossing, which was struck in the accident. The firetruck itself, worth about $212,000, was deemed a total loss. The insurance company was able to salvage $10,000 in the sale of parts from the truck and the district was issued a check for the loss by the insurance company for about $211,000, McLin said.


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