Fraser Valley train crossings defy easy fixes
February 1, 2008
There are three common reasons why people in the Fraser Valley are late for work: a snowstorm, it’s too cold to start the car, or the “(expletive) train.”
Tabernash resident Kimber Scott’s recent letter to the editor in the Sky-Hi Daily News expressed a sentiment that is frequently heard in the Fraser Valley. Perhaps the most recent incident happened about a year ago, when residents in Winter Park complained of a stopped train that blocked both railroad crossings on the west side of town. Frustrated by the lack of response from the railroad, people were forced to leave their cars on the side of the road and cross the tracks on foot.
“What if there had been an emergency?” was a common concern that was voiced among those residents.
According to Scott’s letter, Tabernash has a similar problem. Her neighborhood, located on the east side of town, is surrounded by train tracks; one road leads in and out, and it happens to have a railroad crossing.
“Increasingly, Union Pacific is finding it to be a good place to park their trains,” Scott wrote. “I am worried about the effect this may have on our emergency personnel being able to respond quickly enough if there is a heart attack or fire. I have been told, though, that they can “break” the train in enough time to not cause any problems.”
Scott is also concerned about the effect the railroad has on “day-to day” life, she said. While the verdict is still out about how much the train affects the residents there, most have admitted the train has been an inconvenience for them at some point.
“After a long, hard day we have been anxious to retire to the comfort of home only to get stuck just blocks away, unable to get there,” Scott wrote. “I am not talking about five minutes here and there, either. Sometimes the train is parked there for two hours or more”
Mark Davis, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific, said when a train is stopped on a crossing and doesn’t move for a certain amount of time, a citation can be issued. He could not recall what Colorado’s exact regulation is for how long a train can stand at a crossing, but “hours” is obviously unacceptable, he said.
The best thing to do, Davis said, is to contact the railroad’s dispatch for emergencies, a number that contacts the right people and let’s them know there’s a problem. The caller should note what time the train is blocking the crossing, how long, and how often the situation occurs. By knowing there’s a problem, the railroad can work toward a possible solution.
“Let them know the crossing is being blocked … and we’ll see what can be done,” Davis said.
The phone number is (888) 877 7267, or (888) UPR-RCOP.
“If a crossing is being blocked regularly, I always encourage residents to call that 800 number. That’s the only way the railroad has a record then of what’s occurring,” he added.
If there is an emergency, a local response agency will call the railroad and contact the train crew, in order for them to break the train.
But there are a lot of safety considerations for that procedure, Davis said, and sometimes separating the train takes more time than just physically moving it.
Breaking a train could takes 15 to 20 minutes, he said ” although each time is different. The crew could be a mile or so away from the car that’s actually blocking the crossing, he explained, and getting to the car, setting the hand brakes and separating the cars takes time.
An alternative route would be ideal, but Union Pacific does not fund those projects, Davis said. If the town or community decides it wants an overpass or underpass ” or a small bridge ” the railroad will sometimes pay an “extremely small” percentage of the entire project, he said. But ultimately, it must be paid for by the town or another funding source.
The Leland Creek Underpass, for example, to be located on Kings Crossing Road in Winter Park, is a project being funded by the towns of Winter Park and Fraser, and Grand Park development. Winter Park Town Engineer Chuck Swanson estimated that a train blocks both crossings once or twice a year, but it hasn’t happened much lately.
There are no plans to build an underpass, overpass or bridge in Tabernash, however. County Commissioner James Newberry said he’s familiar with a few complaints from residents on the east side of town, but there aren’t many options right now.
At one point the county considered building a road ” an alternative route ” toward Junction Ranch, but those fields leading to Junction Ranch are covered in wetlands, Newberry said. A new road would also cost a lot of money, he added.
“We’re going to go back and review what the law is as far as intersections, and how they’re supposed to accommodate traffic. (But) as far as anything else, I don’t know what else we could do at this time,” he said. “It is an issue; we’ve looked at building roads and other ways out of that particular area. But there’s nothing we’ve seen that we can make work at this time.”
Newberry explained that what usually blocks the entrance in that area is when a train pulls over to let another one pass through.