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January 2011

Rail News: C&S

Freight railroads, rail-transit agencies seek ways to make the safety grade at crossings


Compiled by the Progressive Railroading staff

For railroads and rail-transit agencies, coming up with more effective ways to improve safety at grade crossings isn't run-of-the-mill budget planning or problem-solving. It's essence stuff. It's also a collaborative process, one that often involves federal, state and local authorities. It's about education, too — as in educating rail and agency employees, and the public.

And then there's technology. To make crossings that much safer, railroads and agencies are scouting out and adopting new concepts and systems while continuing to rely on proven products and devices.

In December 2010, the Progressive Railroading staff contacted representatives from a range of freight railroads and passenger-rail agencies. We asked: What has your railroad/agency done in recent months to improve safety at grade crossings and what are you planning to do in 2011? Edited portions of their e-mailed responses follow.

From Tried-And-True To New

Norfolk Southern Railway spent about $17 million installing or upgrading active warning devices at about 150 grade-crossing locations during the latter half of 2010, said Assistant Vice President Communications & Signals Ray Rumsey.

"We continue to migrate from the older, proven technologies like the Invensys GCP 3000 package towards implementation of Invensys' next-generation GCP 4000 package," he added. "The GCP 4000 package has advanced train detection technology, as well as improved diagnostic and event logging capabilities."

NS also has upgraded crossing equipment hardware and software to "take advantage of the enhancements offered by the manufacturer," said Rumsey, noting that Invensys has been NS' "main supplier" of crossing equipment. NS also has "tested and [will] continue to test crossing products from other manufacturers," he added.  

As for 2011? "We plan to implement new/proven technology products like the GCP 4000 package and upgrade existing equipment/software when feasible," Rumsey said, adding that the Class I's 2011 plan will look a lot like the 2010 model. Projected investment in 2011: about $35 million, he said.

At CSX Transportation, the 2011 project plan also more or less mirrors 2010's. Crews completed 122 crossing upgrades/installations in 2010 and are forecast to complete 120 this year, said Chief Engineer - Communications and Signals Joe Ivanyo.

 "Working closely with state transportation officials, we have continued to implement upgrades of crossing warning devices and new installations at identified locations," he said. "As part of that effort, we are continuing to implement our standard remote monitoring systems at these new/upgraded locations. Remote monitoring provides immediate visibility into certain key actionable conditions that otherwise would be captured in a local log. At the same time, we also participate with the states in LED upgrade projects." 

 That said, some grade-crossing locations do not require "constant warning time" because the state in question doesn't require it and the circumstances don't warrant it, Ivanyo said.

"In those cases, we try to find the most cost-efficient systems that meet the needs of that specific application," he said. "We have also worked with suppliers to develop remote monitoring capability that provides meaningful information for these systems."

For Kansas City Southern officials, "meaningful" in a 2010 crossing context came in the form of installing the 75th set of flashers and gates on the Meridian Speedway, a KCS/NS joint venture line between Meridian, Miss., and Shreveport, La., said KCS spokeswoman Doniele Carlson.

"Over 80 percent of all passive crossbuck-only crossings were renewed with new posts, high reflective crossbucks, front and back reflective striping, new emergency signs and a ‘STOP' or ‘YIELD' sign, and the remaining 20 percent will be completed in early 2011," she added. 

Also, private crossings in Louisiana now feature new signs; all remaining private crossings "across the system" will be completed in the next two years, Carlson said.

The Indiana Rail Road Co. (IRR) is in the midst of replacing 20-year-old equipment primarily with GE Transportation's HXP-3/PMD-3 predictive warning system, said Chris Rund, IRR's AVP, public relations and corporate services.

"[This] year, we plan to begin using GE's XP-4 system," he added.

Working with officials from the state of Wisconsin and several local communities, Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. (WSOR) crews last year upgraded more than 15 public grade crossings "to today's modern technology," said WSOR Manager of Community Development Ken Lucht.

Two crossing projects included "surface channelization" as required by federal quiet zone regulations and five were "new installations" of active warning devices at previously passive crossings, Lucht said, adding that he expects nearly a dozen crossings to receive active warning devices in 2011.

Quite-zone creation also is a piece of the safety improvement puzzle in the passenger-rail realm. The "most significant" crossing work MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) crews performed during second-half 2010 was the installation of LIRR's (and the state of New York's) first quiet-zone crossing, said spokesman Sam Zambuto.

Zoning In

Located at LIRR's Little Neck Parkway crossing on the Port Washington Branch, the $1.5 million zone opened in October, Zambuto said. Improvements included the installation of four quadrant gates and vehicle detection loops. Western-Cullen-Hayes Inc. provided the exit gates; Campbell Technology Corp. and Reno A&E, the loops detection system, Zambuto said. LIRR also added video monitoring, signage and median barriers on one side of the crossing. The median barrier features a combination of Qwick Kurb® Inc. "flexible barriers" and a "raised cement" median, he said.

LIRR construction crews performed most of the installation work, including the new cement sidewalks, parking lot entrance and crossing pad extension. LIRR signal crews performed all crossing equipment installations, including two entrance gates, two exit gates, two sidewalk gates, all new cables, and construction and wiring of a crossing control equipment house, Zambuto said.

The equipment house features all new crossing and signal control system equipment, including a microprocessor (Ansaldo STS' MicroLok® II), a custom-built local monitoring panel, new batteries (Saft's Nicad), and all new associated track circuit and signal equipment. STV Inc. completed the civil design work; HNTB, the signal design. At other crossing locations, LIRR crews are replacing "old style" lead acid batteries with Saft-supplied Nicad batteries, Zambuto said.

Meanwhile, LIRR is installing event recorders at all 295 of its crossings. Through early December, LIRR had installed 210 recorders, supplied "predominantly" by North American Signal Inc., Zambuto said. This year, LIRR will continue to install the aforementioned batteries, as well as gatekeepers, provided by GateKeeper Systems Inc., Zambuto said. The railroad also plans to replace the key cylinders in about 425 crossing key devices. The devices feature a high-security key to bypass the crossing in case a train is disabled near the crossing or a track circuit fails. G&B Specialties Inc. will supply the cylinders and ASLA Distributing, the high-security keys, Zambuto said.

LIRR also will continue to work with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to install advanced traffic preemption devices at a number of crossings, he added.

Comprehensive Improvements

Meanwhile, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA) is working on a comprehensive safety program for its Metrolink commuter-rail system that includes more than $100 million in grade-crossing enhancements in 2010-2011.

SCRRA is a joint powers authority comprising Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA), Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments and Ventura County Transportation Commission.

In June 2009, Metrolink adopted the "Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Recommended Design Practices and Standards Manual," which comprised the "best practices" from Caltrain, SamTrans, LIRR, MTA Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit, North County Transit District and LACMTA's Metro Gold Line, said SCRRA spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt.

The new standards include improvements in advanced preemption with traffic signals, new pedestrian treatments, channelization and gates, and exit gates with vehicle detection loops.

Metrolink's also taken a "sealed corridor" approach to "protect the railroad right-of-way while enhancing each grade crossing," Coffelt said. Upgrades completed in 2010 include an $8.2 million project in Rancho Cucamonga that involved constructing a pedestrian underpass; a $10.8 million project in Pomona that included widening and lengthening the center platform, adding parking, making pedestrian- and grade-crossing modifications, and completing track relocation work; and more than $60 million in grade-separation work that was "funded by others," Coffelt said.

Also, SCRRA is overseeing work on an $85 million, OCTA-funded program to upgrade Orange County's 50-plus crossings, Coffelt said. Construction was 40 percent complete as of December, with all improvements to be made before 2011's end, Coffelt said. Upgrades include updated warning devices, additional gate arms, extended and raised medians, improved signage and coordinated local traffic signals.

In Los Angeles County, SCRRA continues to make crossing improvements at Grandview, Sonora, Chevy Chase, Broadway/Brazil, Doran, Sunland, Coldwater Grade Crossing and Buena Vista/Van Owen. Total cost: about $30 million, Coffelt said. In Ventura County, where 2010-2011 crossing work totals $4.5 million, projects include a Spring Road widening effort that involves raising medians and installing signage striping, fencing and pedestrian treatments, and swing gate barricades and fencing.

"The technology used in our crossings are state-of-the-art crossing flashers and gates with LED lights, pedestrian gates and channelization [suppliers include Safetran, Western-Cullen-Hayes and National Gate], and new precast concrete panels [manufactured by Omega Industries]," Coffelt said. 

Less Anxiety With Separation

Another California agency continues to post progress on a safety improvement plan of its own. Caltrain's engineering improvements include grade-crossing upgrades, new pedestrian gates and several grade-separation projects, according to a prepared statement.

Last year, the 55-mile commuter railroad started construction on the $147 million San Bruno Grade Separation project. The project calls for elevating Caltrain tracks above three existing crossings at San Bruno, San Mateo and Angus avenues. The agency will replace an existing station with an elevated one, and build pedestrian underpasses.

At the Santa Clara station, a $40 million project is designed to add a wider, longer center-boarding platform and a pedestrian underpass. Meanwhile, a $5.8 million project to improve safety at eight crossings in Santa Clara County calls for installing signalized pedestrian gates, crossing panels, and, where appropriate, center medians to keep vehicles from driving around lowered crossing gates.

For Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) officials, the 2010 grade-crossing focus was "primarily on pedestrian-crossing safety improvements" on the agency's Westside light-rail extension of the MAX Blue line, said John Fall, coordinator, project communications. Accordingly, TriMet installed swing gates, new pedestrian audible/visual signals and safety fencing at two high-speed roadway/pedestrian crossings "that have a skewed intersection with the trackway," he added.

"The signals were developed and built by TriMet's Signals Department, in consultation with municipal and regulatory jurisdictions," Fall said.

The Upgrades Continue

In 2011, TriMet plans to upgrade at least two more high-speed roadway/pedestrian crossings along the Westside extension. Meanwhile, a "great deal" of at-grade crossing work also has been completed along TriMet's Westside Express Service (WES) commuter-rail line in Washington County, Fall said. The agency installed a double-gated automatic crossing gate with bells and flashing lights for pedestrians, bicycles and skateboarders at a sidewalk and pedestrian trail crossing WES tracks near a skateboard park in Tualatin, Ore.

TriMet also installed standard four-quadrant gates at three crossings and median barriers at a fourth to create a quiet zone along a WES segment. North of the zone, four WES crossings now feature wayside horns in an effort to reduce the "noise impact" from train horns, Fall added. The four-quadrant gates consist of standard components provided by Safetran, GE and Railroad Controls Ltd.; the wayside horns were provided by Railroad Controls, Fall noted.

TriMet contributed $250,000 — courtesy of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding — toward the $3 million in WES crossing modifications. ARRA funds covered the Westside crossing modifications cost of about $160,000, Fall said.

Other passenger railroads/agencies that recently completed crossing work or plan to in 2011:

  • Amtrak continues to upgrade "some existing crossings with constant warning devices and have installed gates and flashers at a number of private crossings" — work that's being completed as part of the railroad's Incremental Train Control System project in Michigan, said spokesman Steve Kulm. Amtrak contracted GE Transportation to complete the work. "[GE is] installing their new ElectroLogIXS equipment configured as a constant warning device," Kulm said.
  • MTA Metro-North Railroad has an agreement with NYSDOT to make engineering improvements to six crossings in 2011, said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. As of press time, the railroad had budget approval for only one of the projects: preliminary engineering work at the Cleveland Street crossing. The $10,000 project includes upgrading railroad circuitry, installing a bell and auxiliary flashers, Anders said.
  • Charlotte Area Transit System recently changed the type of crossing-gate light it uses — "from a single LED bulb to a multiple LED array," said John Bisser, manager of rail systems. "The new lights have better visibility and are more durable than the single LED assemblies. For example, the single bulb would crack or break if a car happened to come in contact with the gate, and the multiple one does not."

Seeking Closure

Of course, the best way to improve safety at crossings is to close them. That's easier said than done, but railroads and the communities they serve continue to find ways to accomplish it.

In September 2010, officials from BNSF Railway Co., the state of South Dakota and city of Sioux Falls marked the closure of the 5,000th grade crossing on the Class I's network, according to a BNSF prepared statement. Since launching its crossing closure program in 2000, BNSF has worked with states and communities across its 28-state network to close the 5,000 crossings. Combined with other safety initiatives, the closure program has helped reduce crossing collisions by 70 percent since 1995, according to BNSF.

Other roads also are posting closure progress. Last year, KCS closed 18 grade crossings in Mississippi and Louisiana, Carlson said. At IRR, the closure program is "the most significant" safety improvement effort the Indiana regional railroad is undertaking, Rund said.

"We have had the most success in rural communities with populations between 1,500 and 3,000," he said. "These communities have relatively light traffic density, combined with a high number of public crossings per track-mile — in most cases, 10 or more per mile."

IRR has closed four public crossings during the past two years in Newton, Ill. It has agreements in principle with two Indiana communities to close three more crossings in 2011.

"Working with the community leadership and finding ways to make closures a win-win proposition is key," Rund said.

Meanwhile, WSOR last year petitioned the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads to close five public grade crossings throughout southern Wisconsin, WSOR's Lucht said. And this year, Amtrak officials are working with Pennsylvania planners to close "the remaining three highway crossings on the Harrisburg Line, but the actual construction work may not occur in 2011," said Kulm.

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