Projects aim to im­prove Boron, Te­hachapi rail safety

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - NEWS -

‘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 ef­fort

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.”

Boron project

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.

Com­pet­i­tive grant

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 sit­u­a­tion

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.

FRA views

“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.

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