Projects aim to improve Boron, Tehachapi rail safety
‘Despite significant improvements over several decades, deaths resulting from highway-rail grade crossing incidents and illegal trespassing continue to account for about 95% of all rail-related fatalities in the U.S. annually,” a recent article in Railway Age reported.
Two East Kern communities are working to reduce those numbers.
Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said his city’s efforts will also help beautify the downtown area.
Efforts by Kern county government are aimed at reducing the number of trespassing deaths in Boron.
Two of the nation’s busiest rail lines bisect the two communities.
Tehachapi City Manager Garrett said Tehachapi’s efforts are aimed at the city’s three rail crossings, at Green and Hayes Streets and Dennison Road, and are part of a 15-year effort to upgrade the mountain city’s downtown.
“The ‘Rail Safety Corridor Project’ was approved by the City Council, which has hired a contractor to build it,” Garrett said.
The project has two goals — improving safety, especially for pedestrians and bicycle riders, and improving the appearance of downtown, especially the area north of Tehachapi Blvd. and the railroad, Garrett said.
“We’ve been working with the Union Pacific Railroad and the California Transportation Commission on this,” he said.
UP designed the project since it involved their property and standards, at a cost to the city of $750,000.
The three crossings will be “wider, smoother, and have a walkway for pedestrians that will allow them to cross the tracks away from vehicles,” Garrett explained.
He said pedestrians illegally crossing the tracks in the city have been killed, and he recalled seeing a woman lift a baby carriage containing a child over the tracks. (I have a photo of a family with a baby carriage and two small children crawling under a railcar in a train with live engines that I took in the Mojave railroad yard).
Route to be fenced
Wrought iron and rubberized chain link fencing will be installed along the tracks to funnel pedestrians to the crossings and “stop people trespassing by crossing the tracks illegally which puts them in harm’s way,” Garrett noted.
Curb, gutter, and sidewalks will also be installed along streets along the north side of the tracks to provide a walking path for pedestrians.
Garrett said the project was one of the first he worked on when he joined the city, part of an effort to beautify downtown and the area north of the tracks and Tehachapi Boulevard.
Part of that effort involved volunteers including local churches and others who cleaned up the area, removing some 55 tons of trash.
The north side improvement is a “win-win” for the city which is attracting new businesses including two craft breweries and increasing residential and business property values, the city manager said.
“This resurgence in this part of the city is a return on our investment,” Garrett said.
Asked if the three crossings will be “quiet” crossings, which are modified to eliminate the need for locomotives to blow their whistles, Garrett said the City Council has twice decided not to spend the million dollars or more that would be needed to equip each crossing.
Garrett said the City Council has approved a contract for the pedestrian improvements.
“By this time next year we should have an amazing enhancement.”
Something similar is underway in Boron, which has experienced trespassing deaths in 2006, 2012 and 2013, said Yolanda Alcantar, Kern County Public Works manager.
A pre-construction meeting was held Monday in Bakersfield on a project to construct Americans with Disabilities Act compliant crossings at the BNSF Railway crossing at Boron Avenue, and the Rio Tinto crossing on Twenty Mule Team Road.
Alcantar said the crossings will include handrails and pebbled material to alert the blind to the presence of the crossings.
The projects will have fencing to guide pedestrians to the ADA crossings, Alcantar said.
They are part of a larger project to build sidewalks and a 10-foot wide bike path along Twenty Mule Team Road between Desert Lake and Boron, she said,
The sidewalk will be installed along the busy road within the Desert Lake community, and will be bike path for the rest of the way to Boron.
Funding for the overall project came from a highly competitive state grant the county applied for.
“Our project was ranked number one in the state,” Alcantar said with well-deserved pride. “We’re very excited.”
BNSF contributed $277,000 for the crossing work, Alcantar said.
The projects are expected to be completed by the end of this year.
“We are working to keep everyone as safe as we can,” she said
Mojave has the busiest railroad operations in the region with some 40 through BNSF and Union Pacific trains daily along with local trains to Monolith, the CalPortland cement plant west of town; trains to Searles that connect with the Trona Railway; and trains to the Mojave Air & Spaceport and industries south of town.
Construction of the overpass over the tracks at Oak Creek Road significantly improved rail safety in Mojave, but problems remain.
Pedestrians living west of town try to avoid walking over the overpass by slipping under a fence on its west side. That could be mitigated if Union Pacific installed a fence on the east side of the tracks.
“Almost every grade crossing collision and trespasser death or injury is preventable, and the FRA is working to intensify our abatement efforts,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory in the Railway Age article, “Through rigorous data analysis, we have improved our understanding about such behavior and its contributing factors, and are seeking to empower and energize our partners to implement localized deterrence and mitigation strategies that save lives.”
Batory also emphasized that “increasing grade crossing safety will not only reduce the number of fatalities, but it will also improve the safety and efficiency of the rail transportation network.”
The two East Kern projects are part of that effort and Tehachapi and the county are to be commended for their involvement.