CSX studying fix for malfunctioning crossing arms

CSX Corporation is looking into how to repair the malfunctioning railroad crossing arms on State Road 54, at U.S. 41, said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 office.

Once a repair plan is developed, “the state will participate in funding the repair,” Carson said.

It is not known yet what will be required to fix the problem, how much it will cost or when it will be completed — but there’s no doubt the issue has generated calls for action.

Malfunctioning railroad crossing arms on State Road 54, at the intersection of U.S. 41, pose a public safety hazard and an inconvenience, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis. Efforts have begun to address the problem. (B.C. Manion)

Jeremiah Hawkes, of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, outlines the problem in a June 5 letter to Ellen M. Fitzsimmons, a vice president with CSX Corporation.

“The crossing arm has become a major safety concern as there have been 16 malfunctions of the crossing signal in the previous year,” wrote Hawkes, bureau chief in the management services bureau for the sheriff’s office.

“During each malfunction, the crossing bar lowers when there is no approaching train. These events frequently occur after a rainstorm, which is a frequent occurrence in this area.”

Hawkes also noted the importance that State Road 54 plays in Pasco County’s transportation network.

“State Road 54 is one of the only two existing east-west arterials traversing Pasco County,” he wrote. “State Road 54 also provides connections to several major regional north-south routes, including U.S. Highway 19, the Suncoast Parkway, U.S. Highway 41, U.S. Highway 301 and U.S. Highway 98.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th congressional district, weighed in on the issue in a July 19 letter to Cindy Sandborn, chief operating officer of CSX Corporation.

“These roads (State Road 54 and U.S. 41) serve as an important hub for commuters with approximately 100,000 vehicles traversing the intersection on a daily basis,” Bilirakis wrote.

He also noted that State Road 54 “serves as one of only two existing east-west evacuation routes that carry the county’s over 218,000 coastal evacuation area residents to I-75 in the event of an emergency.”

Bilirakis also noted, “if these crossing arms were to malfunction during a severe weather threat, tens-of-thousands of Pasco residents could be trapped on the roads during an emergency evacuation.”

When the malfunctions occur, the sheriff’s office must respond to manage traffic until a repair can be made, Hawkes noted.

“I am sure you agree this is a serious safety concern for citizens traveling through this intersection and the surrounding area,” Hawkes added.

Both letters urge a swift response to solve the problem.

“The safety of our residents is of the upmost concern,” Bilirakis states.

Capt. Eric Seltzer, District 2 field operations commander in the sheriff’s office, noted other problems posed by the malfunctioning crossing arms.

They prevent the sheriff’s office from being able to respond to calls.

“It could be a crime in progress. It could be a crisis,” he said.

The malfunctioning arms also block first responders from reaching fires, accident victims and other medical calls, he noted.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our citizens,” Steltzer said.

Beyond potential public safety issues, the malfunctioning crossing arms also pose an inconvenience to thousands of motorists who are using the roads, Seltzer said.

Garrick Francis, who works in federal affairs for CSX, responded to Bilirakis’ letter.

An internal CSX team coordinated a diagnostic review at the crossing on July 11 to determine what steps could be taken to correct the issues brought to CSX’s attention by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office letter, Francis wrote.

Representatives at that review included representatives from CSX, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Pasco County’s Traffic Control, and RW Summers Inc. Railroad Construction.

Francis explained that a state project was done in July 2016 to install a new road surface using the TUB system, which is essentially 10-foot-long or 20-foot-long concrete panels that are installed to provide a suitable highway surface.

Prior to the installation of the TUBs, there were not false or partial activations of the crossing gates, Francis wrote.

The focus of the review “was to determine how to correct this crossing as quickly and reliably as possible, but also what could be done to mitigate the occurrences such as these at other locations on future installations,” Francis explained.

A team is working to find a solution, he wrote.

“We recognize the inconvenience that this problem has caused and are working collaboratively with the state and other key stakeholders to develop a permanent solution,” Francis wrote.

Published August 16, 2017 

Comments

  1. The State project has nothing to do with the false activations. This has been a problem for years. I have worked at a business on that corner for the last 5 years and the Fale activations happen all the time. Please fix your problems CSX.

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