Chron: Some at-grade rail is kind of dangerous

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The Chronicle‘s Rad Sallee today describes some of Houston’s dangerous at-grade rail crossings. Here’s an excerpt:

Roughly half of the nearly 1,800 at-grade, or street-level, crossings in the Houston area, like the East Archer location where the teens died June 14, have only “passive” safety devices that are not train-activated. These include “stop,” “yield” or “crossing ahead” signs, pavement markings and street lighting.

There are 25 crossings in the Texas Department of Transportation’s six-county Houston District that federal officials have approved for “active” signalization — flashing lights and crossing arms.


Four other crossings, all near downtown Houston, are recommended for closing.

In addition, TxDOT has recommended 12 other crossings in the Houston district for upgrades. If approved, these likely would be completed by late 2009, Gbur said.

Railroads consider at-grade crossings “an opportunity for something bad to happen” and applaud their elimination, Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Joe Arbona said.


Arbona noted that installing flashing signals at an at-grade crossing cannot guarantee safety as long as some drivers ignore the warnings.

“More than half of accidents happen at places where you have signal lights,” he said.

However, a driver has to go to some trouble to crash through a crossing arm or deliberately go around it. All 25 of the approved upgrades call for gate arms.

As Laurence Simon observed earlier, there’s a rather notable omission in this story about the dangers of at-grade rail crossings that have only minimal, “passive” safety devices: The story does not once mention the fact that most of METRO’s light rail is at-grade and most street crossings do not have gate arms.

Interestingly, the story notes that TXDOT is trying to reduce the number of such intersections in the Houston area, but makes no mention of the fact that METRO is determined to move forward with more dangerous at-grade madness with the new rail lines it is building.

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