When Kelly Abaray, manager of special projects for Union Pacific Railroad, came to the Paonia Town Council meeting on Sept. 25, she addressed safety issues related to crossing and to apologize for sidewalk crossings improperly installed in 2005.
The recent railroad crossing accident which killed 87-year-old Carol Basford of Paonia has added concerns about safety.
The fatal accident happened at the Delta Avenue crossing. Abaray said there have been "five crossing accidents since [Union Pacific] tracking began in the mid 1970s."
As a result, Union Pacific submitted a crossing closure proposal. This would "close redundant, passive crossings in Paonia." Those crossings are in the North Fork Subdivision at North Fork Avenue, Oak Street and Delta Avenue. These three crossings represent six locations where a train/car collision can happen. Presently, there are 10 locations where a collision can occur. If these crossings are closed, the number of possible collision locations would be reduced to two crossings or four locations.
Union Pacific plans to conduct a closure study including a traffic study, prepare the necessary Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) application, remove crossing surfaces and make contributions to the Town of Paonia to cover roadway barricade costs.
"Crossing closure/consolidation decisions should be based on balancing public necessity, convenience and safety," Abaray said.
State law requires the crossing cannot be the only crossing providing access to property.
To support keeping a crossing open, a professional licensed engineer in Colorado must write "that the crossing is safe in its' current state."
The closed crossing must be within 1/4-mile of a crossing with lights and gates.
Abaray reported, "The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is actively working to establish and further a public and industry goal of closing 25 percent of this nation's highway-rail crossings."
Union Pacific sees the benefits in crossing closures. The highest level of crossing safety occurs when there is not a point of intersection between the roadway and the railroad. Crossing closures result in reduced maintenance costs for the roadway authority and the railroad. All collisions with trains or collisions without trains being involved at crossings will be reduced.
The Colorado PUC has "primary jurisdiction over all public highway-rail crossings, including opening, closing, upgrading, overpasses or underpasses, and the allocation of costs." The PUC would make the final decision to close the crossings or not.
Between 2002 to 2005, there were crossing projects in Paonia at Second and Third Streets. These included upgrades from passive crossings to active warning devices, flashing lights and gates installed; installation was paid for by Federal Section 130 funding; yearly maintenance was to be paid for by Union Pacific; no surface renewal project was done and consequently existing timber remained; and there were no closures of the three crossings.
As to the sidewalk crossings at Second and Third Streets, Union Pacific track maintenance will take care of repairs inside of the railroad ties ends. Abaray apologized at the beginning of her presentation for the state of the sidewalk crossings. She had reviewed the condition of the crossings prior to the council meeting.
Union Pacific also wants to provide Operation Lifesaver presentations from Colorado OLS. Union Pacific will hire a consultant to prepare the closure study. After that, Union Pacific would like to meet with the Town of Paonia to discuss the closure study and a crossing closure agreement.
There will be a public meeting for citizen comments.
The Town of Paonia and the North Fork Coal Working Group had Corona Research prepare a "Paonia-Area Quality Of Life Survey" in November of 2001. This was a railroad crossing noise and safety survey.
Corona Research reported the survey of Paonia residents within town limits and in nearby rural areas found railroads and crossings are "a daily part of life and travel in the local area." Eighty-three percent of local residents live within five blocks or less from railroad tracks.
The survey showed that "the vast majority of residents rate the local quality of life as 'good' or 'excellent.' . . . Residents are more than twice as likely to say that trains positively impact their quality of life as they are to cite a negative impact."
The majority of respondents said train noises are "slightly less irritating than car and truck traffic noise."
Those who have lived in Delta County for 10 years or less find train noises including whistles "much more irritating than do long-time residents." The study said "train noises have an acquired tolerance.
The study found "most residents believe that local railroad crossings are safe" and that "those who believe that crossings are dangerous are almost equally likely to place primary responsibility on driver behavior or the design of the crossing, as opposed to the behavior of trains."
Corona Research reported "most residents would prefer not to close railroad crossings, even if it reduces noise and/or foregoes costs for safety improvements." Sixty-seven percent of residents would prefer to keep both train whistles and warning bells. The three railroad crossings were not closed after the public hearings and studies between 2002 and 2005.
Citizens on Sept. 25 seemed to be more in favor of the closures.blog comments powered by Disqus