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$567K for railroad safety upgrades

2008 crash sparked plans to add lights, gates at Clark County crossings.

Railroad crossings in Madison Twp. and South Charleston will soon get $567,000 in safety upgrades, leaving eight in Clark County that don’t have both flashing lights and gates.

The West Central Port Authority will use a federal grant to add warning signals and gates to railroad crossings at Mound and Willow streets in South Charleston and Columbus-Xenia Road in Madison Twp.

Plans for the project came after a motorist was paralyzed in an accident at the Mound Street crossing in 2008.

Richard Flax, a WESTCO board member, said the new warning devices at Clark County crossings should improve safety.

“It will give them a barrier where they will have to stop … We think this just makes it safer and that it may save a life,” Flax said.

WESTCO owns 19 railroad crossings in Clark County. A railroad crossing at First Street in Springfield and the Columbus-Xenia Road crossing will be the only ones owned by WESTCO that will have only warning lights but no gates in Clark County.

“The improvements will allow for all (WESTCO) crossings in Clark County to have active warning devices, warning roadway travelers and pedestrians of an oncoming train,” said Zach Balassone, port authority secretary/treasurer.

WESTCO operates 23 in Champaign County and 14 of them have active warning devices with gates and flashing lights.

“Ideally we would like to have them at all railroad crossings, especially at night and especially in South Charleston where there are several crossings in a row,” Balassone said.

WESTCO was awarded the money for the project through a federal grant allocated by the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee in 2010.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has authority over 5,800 public crossings and 66 percent of them have active safety devices such as flashing lights or gates, said Jason Gilham, a PUCO spokesman.

Deaths resulting from collisions between trains and vehicles at public railroad crossings in Ohio had spiked recently, according to a report released in 2012 by PUCO, the latest available. Crash statistics for 2013 haven’t been released.

Locally in 2012, no one was killed in the 10 train-vehicle crashes in the region, but a few people were seriously injured, and it was the most local crashes in six years.

Clark County had 17 train-vehicle crashes between 2003 and 2012. Five such crashes occurred between 2008 and 2012, according to the report.

Crashes at South Charleston Street in 2006 and Zischler Road in 2004 were fatalities, according the PUCO report.

Jason Gilham, a PUCO spokesman, said warning devices such as gates and warning lights are helpful, but are not 100 percent effective.

“The unfortunate thing is you do these upgrades and half of the crashes happen at crossings with warning devices,” he said. “What we have to do is raise the education level about the dangers of ignoring warning signals. Unfortunately, there just no sure fire way to put an end to these things.”

Richard Henry, a WESTCO board member said, the warning devices won’t stop drivers from putting themselves in harms way.

“You have cases where people run red light and will go around the gates, but we will have done what we can,” Henry said.

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