State To Spend $100M In Effort To Improve Railroad Crossings
CLAREMORE, Oklahoma - The state is spending a load of money to make railroad crossing safer. A new $100 million effort starts early next year to add more warning signs at crossings statewide.
Even in areas where trains go slow and there is plenty of warning, accidents have happened, but with some one time federal and state money, they state is going to almost triple spending on railroad crossing; starting with crossings that aren't marked well.
The Burlington Northern line through Claremore is one of 19 freight lines that cross Oklahoma.
Rogers County is one of the state's busiest rail corridors, which is why so many crossings have full warning systems with arms, lights and bells; but the state has 3,700 crossings and most aren't marked so clearly.
Most only have railroad crossbucks that many people ignore.
In Claremore there's so much rail traffic, and so much waiting, that almost everyone has seen people try to get ahead of a train.
“There's probably 20 or 30 a day and people do go fast to try and get across the racks,” one woman said.
One man said, “Speeding up all the time and to catch the crossing before the things go down.”
At the state capitol, the Governor announced a new initiative to improve warnings at 300 rail and highway intersections over the next four years.
“We must do a better job as a state to protect our citizens at these rail crossings, and that's what this initiative will do,” Governor Mary Fallin said.
The infusion of money will fast forward safety improvements already in the plans. They'll come at three times the current pace of 25 intersections a year.
Already this year, five people have died in train collisions; all at intersections that were marked.
"And the driver of the vehicle is totally dependent on the warning devices on the highway to tell them there's approaching an impending danger,” said Gary Ridley with the Department of Transportation.
In Claremore trains back up traffic, and even emergency traffic has to detour around it because there's no way over or under the tracks.
That's how it is in most places, so the state wants to make sure drivers at least know what's ahead.
“It gets scary because I've had a friend die a couple of years ago on tracks and it's scary,” one man said.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation hasn't decided yet which crossings will be upgraded first. They're going over the data on accidents, the amount of traffic and the expected cost of the upgrade to develop the list.